Warren Henness was scheduled to be executed Feb. 13. DeWine set a new date for Sept. 12.

After a federal court ruling likening Ohio's execution method to waterboard and injecting fire in the veins of the prisoner, Gov. Mike DeWine issued a reprieve Friday afternoon for a Columbus killer slated to die next month.

DeWine has directed the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to assess Ohio’s current options for execution drugs and examine possible alternative drugs.

Warren Henness was scheduled to be executed Feb. 13.  DeWine set a new date for Sept. 12.

Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz last week deemed Ohio’s three-drug execution protocol akin to fatal “waterboarding.” The federal judge said expert testimony in his court shows that the other two drugs probably also produce agony for the condemned.

“Reading the plain language of the Eighth Amendment, that should be enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment,” he said of his conclusion that Ohio is, in essence, torturing the condemned to death.

But the judge said he was forced to allow the Columbus man’s execution to proceed because of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The majority in the 5-4 ruling declared if Death Row inmates claim that the government’s methods of killing them are cruel, they must propose an alternative for their own execution that is “available, feasible and can be readily implemented.”

Henness was convicted of the March 20, 1992, slaying of Richard Myers, a lab technician from Circleville whom Henness lured to his Columbus home under the pretext that he needed substance-abuse counseling from Myers. Henness kidnapped Myers, shot him in the head five times, cut his throat and stole his car, checkbook and credit cards, according to Ohio Parole Board records. Henness and his wife and another man spent the subsequent days using Myers’ money to smoke crack and abuse other drugs.

Five days after Myers disappeared, police found his body at an abandoned water-purification plant off Nelson Road. He had been gagged and his hands bound behind his back with a coat hanger. His ring finger had been severed, and his wedding ring was missing.

Grisly as Myers’ murder was, Merz has spent the past several months in his Dayton courtroom hearing grim descriptions of what Henness is likely to experience in Ohio’s death chamber. Witnesses to the most recent execution described how Robert Van Hook lay on the table in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville in July, wheezing and gasping as his life ebbed away.

A string of doctors from prestigious institutions testified in front of Merz that the first drug in the cocktail, midazolam, is a benzodiazepine that can render a person unconscious but lacks the painkilling effects of opioids and other analgesics.

Matthew Exline, a doctor at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, testified that midazolam takes away a person’s ability to express pain. They “look comatose,” but the drug hasn’t “actually taken away their pain,” Exline said.

drowland@dispatch.com

@darreldrowland