COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio said it plans to resume executions in January with a new three-drug combination after an unofficial moratorium dating to early 2014 and blamed on shortages of lethal drugs. It said it will return to an approach it previously used to execute dozens of inmates.
The state will use the drugs midazolam, which puts the inmate to sleep; rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Monday in a development first reported by The Associated Press.
The drugs aren’t compounded and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, state Assistant Attorney General Thomas Madden said at a federal court hearing.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of such a combination in a ruling last year regarding Oklahoma’s execution protocols.
Madden told Columbus federal Judge Edmund Sargus a new execution policy will be announced at the end of the week.
Attorneys representing death row inmates promised an immediate appeal.
The development opens the way for the Jan. 12 execution of Ronald Phillips for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993. The state also plans to carry out executions on Feb. 15 and March 15.
Ohio hasn’t put anyone to death since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure using a never-before-tried two-drug combo.
The state used midazolam in McGuire’s execution, making it disappointing that it would again turn to that drug, said Allen Bohnert, a federal public defender representing several death row inmates.
“Following the McGuire execution debacle, they very deliberately and specifically refused to use midazolam any longer for an execution,” Bohnert said.
The state’s former policy called for 10 milligrams of midazolam. The state now plans to use 500 milligrams, Madden said.
The prisons agency said state law shields the origin of the drugs. The agency said it plans to proceed with the Phillips execution after filing the new execution protocol with the judge.
The announcement is a return to a similar three-drug process the state used from 1999 to 2009, during which it executed 32 inmates. The state also used potassium chloride in those executions, along with other sedatives and paralyzing drugs.
In 2009, Ohio switched to one drug, a powerful dose of a sedative, and carried out 20 executions until the sedatives used became unavailable when pharmaceutical companies put them off limits for capital punishment.
The state’s largest anti-death penalty group, Ohioans To Stop Executions, criticized the announcement, saying recommendations from a state Supreme Court committee that studied the death penalty should be put into place first to ensure fairness in the system.
The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the news disheartening, saying that using new drug combinations “amounts to little more than human experimentation.”
Ohio and other states have struggled to find legal supplies of execution drugs.
The state has more than two dozen inmates with firm execution dates sitting on death row, with executions scheduled out as far as October 2019.
After McGuire’s execution, the longest in Ohio using lethal drugs, the prisons agency changed its policies to allow for single doses of two alternative drugs. Complicating matters, neither of those drugs — sodium thiopental and pentobarbital — is available in the United States after their manufacturers put them off-limits for executions.
Madden said the state “tried hard and long” to obtain those drugs before announcing the new process. The state has unsuccessfully tried to find compounded or specially mixed versions.
Last year, Republican Gov. John Kasich ruled out looking for alternative execution methods, such as the firing squad or hanging.
In 2014, Kasich signed into law a bill shielding the names of companies that provide the state with lethal injection drugs.
Supporters said such confidentiality is necessary to obtain supplies of the drugs and the measure is needed to restart executions. Opponents said it was naive to think the bill could truly protect companies’ names from being revealed.
A federal judge sided with the state.
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