By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
COLUMBUS: A prison doctor couldn’t find veins in the arms of a death row inmate during a pre-execution checkup, the inmate said Friday by video in rare court testimony as he challenges the state’s new, never-tried lethal-injection method.
Condemned child killer Ronald Phillips said the doctor could find only a vein on his right hand following an examination Oct. 18 at the medical center at Chillicothe Correctional Institution, south of Columbus.
“I guess the Lord hid my veins from them,” Phillips said.
Phillips, 40, testified under questioning by his attorneys that the doctor said he wasn’t part of the state’s lethal-injection process when asked to do the checks. A prison nurse also participated.
Phillips said he had a fear of needles dating from childhood when his parents would sell drugs and let addicts shoot up in their kitchen in a tough Akron neighborhood.
He testified for more than an hour by video hookup from the prison where death row inmates are housed. He’s scheduled to die Nov. 14 for raping and killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, in 1993.
There are no recent examples of Ohio death row inmates testifying in person or by video in federal court cases.
Phillips testified as part of a lawsuit brought by his attorneys to delay his execution while they gather evidence against the state’s new execution policy, which includes a two-drug injection process.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced the new policy last month and said Monday it would use that process, which involves the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.
Phillips’ attorneys say the department’s announcements came too close to the execution date to allow a meaningful challenge. The state says nothing is substantially different about the new system.
The hearing Friday began by focusing on the state’s decision to allow the prisons director or death house warden to delegate responsibility for changes in the execution process. That could include any deviation from the policy, down to paperwork documenting a particular step.
Ohio has walked away from that promise with the new policies, Phillips’ attorney Allen Bohnert told the judge.
“Close enough for government work is not acceptable in applying this death penalty protocol,” Bohnert said.
An attorney for Ohio said the state is committed to carrying out the execution in a humane, dignified and constitutional manner and understands that commitment.
“The state will do what the state says it will do,” said Christopher Conomy, an assistant Ohio attorney general.
Judge Gregory Frost was not expected to rule Friday.
Phillips’ attorneys also are challenging the state’s new policy for the lethal drugs it will use.
The state’s first choice is a specialty dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital mixed by a compounding pharmacy. If that can’t be obtained, as in the case of Phillips’ execution, the state will use the two-drug method to put Phillips to death.
Phillips’ lawyers argue the two drugs could cause severe side effects, including painful vomiting.
Those drugs, already part of Ohio’s never-used backup method, have been repeatedly challenged, to no avail, the state said in a court filing Friday morning.
The drugs Ohio is proposing to use on Phillips will cause him to stop breathing within a few minutes, an anesthesiologist said in a statement Thursday as part of a filing by the state in support of the new method.
Irreversible brain and heart damage will follow, and the inmate will die a few minutes later, said Dr. Mark Dershwitz, a University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist.