By Kantele Franko and Andrew Welsh-Huggins
DAYTON, OHIO: An Ohio killer’s unusually slow execution amounted to torture, the man’s adult children said Friday as they announced plans to sue over his death.
Dennis McGuire’s son, also named Dennis, and McGuire’s daughter, Amber, referred to the “agony and terror” of watching him as he appeared to gasp in his final moments Thursday.
The two siblings used the same words the condemned man’s attorneys employed in trying to keep him being executed with a never-before-tried combination of lethal injection drugs
Amber McGuire said she was so horrified that she covered her ears so she wouldn’t hear the sounds her father made, and her brother described it as torture.
“I don’t feel like anybody deserves that — families, or my dad, anybody on death row — nobody deserves to go through that,” he said.
Ohio prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith had no comment on how the execution went but said a review will be conducted as usual.
McGuire, 53, was put to death for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant newlywed, Joy Stewart.
He made loud snorting noises during one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Nearly 25 minutes passed between the time the lethal drugs began flowing and McGuire was pronounced dead.
Executions under the old method were typically much shorter and did not cause the kind of sounds McGuire made.
The execution violated McGuire’s constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, said attorney Jon Paul Rion, representing McGuire’s children. He called the execution unquestionably cruel.
“The question is whether or not the state of Ohio should duplicate the actions of a criminal. And our answer is no,” Rion said. “If we are going to condemn the actions of a person as being wrong because it creates pain, because it creates victims, because it creates an injustice, because it deprives people of life unjustly, then the state of Ohio should not duplicate those actions.”
It’s almost certain lawyers will use McGuire’s execution to challenge Ohio’s plans to put a condemned Cleveland-area killer to death in March.
Prison officials gave McGuire intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. The method was adopted after supplies of a previously used drug dried up because the manufacturer declared it off limits for capital punishment.
McGuire’s lawyers had attempted last week to block his execution, warning that the untried method could lead to a medical phenomenon known as “air hunger” and could cause him to suffer “agony and terror” while struggling to catch his breath.
Assistant Ohio Attorney General Thomas Madden argued that while the U.S. Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, “you’re not entitled to a pain-free execution.”
U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost sided with the state. But at the request of McGuire’s lawyers, he ordered officials to photograph and preserve the drug vials, packaging and syringes.
After McGuire was put to death, his attorney called on Republican Gov. John Kasich to impose a moratorium on executions, as did a state anti-death penalty group.
The execution is likely to echo across the country as other states contemplate new drug methods, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
“Judges will now realize that the warnings being raised about these untried procedures are not just false alarms,” he said in an email. “States will now have more of a burden to show that they are using a well-thought-out best practice.”
Andrew Welsh-Huggins reported from Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus