Part of the job of governor involves rendering the final word on executions when those on death row seek commutations or reprieves. On Thursday, Mike DeWine, just 10 days into his term as governor, received a letter from the federal public defender representing Warren Henness. Henness requested a reprieve from the lethal injection set for Feb. 13. His attorney argued, with good reason, that the protocol for conducting the death penalty is flawed to the point of violating state law and the Ohio constitution.

By Friday, the governor had done the right thing. He quickly issued a reprieve, the execution date moved to September.

Recall that the use of lethal injection is supposed to be the more humane alternative to the electric chair, the change reflecting the evolving standards of what is acceptable in capital punishment. Thus, state law holds death must be “quick and painless.” The state constitution bars executions that “would be considered shocking to any reasonable person.”

In December, a federal magistrate judge in Dayton held an evidentiary hearing concerning the Henness death sentence and the current lethal-injection protocol. The expert testimony proved compelling. It revealed the problems with the first of the three drugs in the execution procedure. That drug is midazolam, a sedative delivered in a massive dose. The trouble is, as the experts explained, midazolam does not reduce consciousness enough. As a result, the prisoner faces the severe pain that comes with the second drug, a paralytic, and the third, potassium chloride to trigger cardiac arrest, “as though fire was being poured” into the prisoner.

That is the conclusion of the magistrate judge. More, he noted that such a high dose of midazolam causes pulmonary edema, an excess of fluid in the lungs, “painful, both physically and emotionally, inducing a sense of drowning and the attendant panic and terror, much as would occur with the torture tactic known as waterboarding.” Twenty-four of the 28 available autopsies nationwide from recent executions involving midazolam reveal pulmonary edema.

So the state’s lethal-injection protocol amounts to the torture the country has deemed inhumane by law and treaty. “Reading the plain language of the Eighth Amendment,” the magistrate judge argued, “that should be enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment.”

Yet he did not halt the execution, though he added it “is not a result with which the court is comfortable.” He held to the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court four years ago, when Justice Samuel Alito, writing for a 5-4 majority, ruled that a prisoner objecting to an execution method had an obligation to put forward an alternative, “available, feasible and can be readily implemented.” Henness did not meet the test.

An element of that failure, and the problems with the protocol, goes to drug manufacturers withholding for moral and legal reasons powerful barbiturates used successfully in earlier executions by lethal injection. That has left Ohio and other states essentially experimenting with midazolam. That should stop, the results of the evidentiary hearing making plain how the protocol falls short of what the state intends for the death penalty.

So what if Warren Henness faces a painful death? He committed a most grisly murder 27 years ago. Yet this isn’t about him. He has killed and faces prison until he dies. At stake is how Ohioans have chosen to conduct capital punishment, to kill in the name of the law. They have called for something more humane than what the evidence says about the current method. So there is a strong case for Gov. DeWine granting the reprieve until Ohio gains a lethal injection that meets its own standard.