Was he told to make it look dramatic? Did he actually do it? It’s unclear, and dead men tell no tales. But what a fiasco.
An attorney for a condemned Ohio inmate whose slow, gasping execution with a new drug combination renewed questions about the death penalty was temporarily suspended last week while officials investigated whether he had coached the condemned man to fake symptoms of suffocation.
State prison records released Monday say McGuire told guards that Lowe counseled him to make a show of his death that would, perhaps, lead to abolition of the death penalty. But three accounts from prison officials indicate McGuire refused to put on a display.
Amy Borror, a spokeswoman for the public defender’s office, said all accounts from execution eyewitnesses — which did not include Lowe — indicate McGuire was unconscious at the time he struggled to breathe.
“We have no way of knowing, obviously, because we can’t interview Mr. McGuire,” she said.
Prisons officials alerted Gov. John Kasich’s lawyer the night before the execution that McGuire had been overheard telling family members he’d been “encouraged to feign suffocation when the lethal injection drugs were first administered,” according to a statement released by the public defender’s office. The investigation was first reported by The Columbus Dispatch.
The night before his execution, a corrections team leader reported being told by McGuire that he understood Lowe as saying “if he started to choke or jerk in any way” the governor would put a stop to the execution.
Dennis McGuire was sentenced to the death penalty after having been found guilty of raping and killing a woman in 1989. McGuire was the first person in Ohio to be executed with a new combination of drugs for the lethal injection, midazolam (a sedative) and hydromorphone (a painkiller). However, it took an unusual long time for McGuire to die, 26 minutes, which has led McGuire’s family to sue the state for cruelty and torture. Perhaps the only way we will know if these symptoms are common is by executing people the same way. That’s up in the air right now.