By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS: Ohio will use a dose of two drugs never tried before in a U.S. execution to put to death a condemned inmate from Akron who raped and killed his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter, the state prisons agency said Monday.
Lawyers for death row inmate Ronald Phillips immediately sued to put off his Nov. 14 execution, saying Ohio delayed the announcement so long it didn’t leave enough time to fully investigate the new method.
The agency made the decision because it couldn’t obtain a supply of its former execution drug, pentobarbital, from a specialty pharmacy that mixes individual doses for patients, prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. The agency had considered using a compounding pharmacy after its supply of federally regulated pentobarbital expired last month.
Instead, the state will use an intravenous combination of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller, in the Nov. 14 execution of Phillips, of Akron.
Those drugs already are included in Ohio’s never-tried backup execution method, which requires them to be injected directly into an inmate’s muscle. No state has put a prisoner to death with that combination of drugs.
Florida uses midazolam as the first of three drugs; Kentucky includes the two in its untested backup method.
Phillips, 40, was sentenced to death for killing Sheila Marie Evans in 1993 after a long period of abusing her.
Gov. John Kasich is weighing clemency for Phillips following the state Parole Board’s unanimous recommendation against mercy last week.
Attorneys for Phillips filed documents in federal court Friday asking a judge to let them expand a current lawsuit to challenge the use of compounded pentobarbital. They filed an updated complaint Monday just hours after the state’s announcement that it was selecting the two other drugs instead.
The state said it’s reviewing the filing.
Judge Gregory Frost scheduled a hearing for Friday.
Phillips’ lawyers also are challenging the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s decision to allow its director to delegate responsibilities for some execution duties. Phillips’ lawyers say that breaks an agreement the agency made previously with Frost’s approval.
Ohio’s execution policy calls for it to try to buy specialty batches of pentobarbital from compounding pharmacies, which mix individual doses of drugs for specific patients. If that fails, the policy calls for the use of the two-drug approach.
A plan by Georgia to use a similar specialty batch of pentobarbital has been put on hold by a federal lawsuit challenging the state prison agency’s refusal to identify the compounding pharmacy that provided the drug.
The lawsuit also questions the drug’s safety and effectiveness.
Compounding pharmacies are under increased scrutiny following last year’s meningitis outbreak that killed more than 60 people and sickened hundreds and was linked to contaminated ingredients at the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.
Phillips’ lawyers have pushed for mercy, arguing he was raped and beaten by his late father as a child and grew up in a chaotic, filthy environment.
The state says Phillips long denied suffering such abuse and raised it only as his execution became imminent.