Ohio governor postpones executions amid challenge to lethal injection procedure


Ohio Governor John Kasich [official website] on Friday put on hold [press release] eight executions after a magistrate for the US District Court of the Southern District of Ohio [official website] on Wednesday refused to lift a stay [JURIST reports] on the first three of Ohio's scheduled executions. Ohio has since appealed the stay, initiated by death row inmates, to the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit [official website], which is unlikely to issue its ruling before February 15th, the next scheduled execution date. Kasich said in a press statement:

While Ohio is confident its appeal will ultimately be successful given the United State Supreme Court [official website] decision in Glossip v. Gross [SCOTUSblog materials], the appellate court's scheduling will not allow the matter to be resolved in time to allow the state to move forward with its current execution dates. Accordingly, these delays are necessary to allow the judicial process to come to a full resolution, and ensure that the state can move forward with the executions.

Judge Michael Merz's grant of stay was premised on his finding that "use of midazolam as the first drug in Ohio's present three-drug protocol will create a 'substantial risk of serious harm' or an 'objectively intolerable risk of harm.'" Ohio's position is that the three-drug combination does not violate the Constitution [JURIST report] and that it should be allowed to go ahead with the executions. A revised schedule for the executions has been listed on the governor's website. There are currently 140 people on death row [NPR report] in Ohio.

Numerous states have switched to the three-drug protocol, which uses midazolam as a sedative before administering a second drug to paralyze and stop breathing and a third drug to stop the heart. In December the Mississippi Supreme Court allowed a challenge [JURIST report] to the use of the sedative. Also that month an inmate in Alabama coughed and struggled to breathe for 13 minutes [JURIST report] during the administration of midazolam, which death penalty opponents called an "avoidable disaster." In November the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a case involving the 2014 botched execution [JURIST reports] of Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate in Oklahoma.