Initial reviews indicate everything went according to plan in the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire of Preble County, whose death brought international attention and legal challenges after he gasped for breath and took longer than usual to die.
“The process worked very well,” Southern Ohio Correctional Facility warden Donald Morgan wrote in an “after-action review” immediately after overseeing the execution. Morgan has overseen at least a dozen executions.
Two completed reviews are mandated by the state’s execution protocol and were obtained by the Dayton Daily News using Ohio’s public records laws. A third review of McGuire’s execution specifically is underway. That is not commonly done, according to state prison officials.
McGuire was executed with a two-drug cocktail previously unused for executions. His death took roughly 25 minutes, making it the longest of the 53 since Ohio resumed executions using lethal injection in 1999. It featured an unusual 10 minutes of him intermittedly gasping and snorting for air while apparently unconscious.
“The state of Ohio would have to be in denial to indicate the events of this execution were normal and went as planned,” said Jon Paul Rion, who is representing McGuire’s family. “The entire nation voiced great concern and shock that Ohio would execute in this way.”
McGuire brutally raped and killed Joy Stewart in 1989. Stewart, of West Alexandria in Preble County, was nearly 8 months pregnant. Her family has released statements saying “he is being treated far more humanely that he treated her.”
McGuire’s unusual death led to calls for a moratorium on executions from death penalty foes, and a federal lawsuit from McGuire’s family saying his death was “cruel and unusual” and that the drugs were not property tested and approved for capital punishment.
As required, the first review following the execution was done immediately afterward by Warden Morgan, who had stood over McGuire as he died. It asked if there were any contingencies identified in advance or acts or events that occurred that were not anticipated. Morgan answered “No” to both questions.
The second review was completed Jan. 27 by appointed special assistant Joseph Andrews. Per the protocol, Andrews reviewed the execution and found it went according to plan, the right drugs were used and that all execution team members were properly trained and qualified.
“I find no reason for revision of policy for future executions,” Andrews wrote.
Attorneys for the next inmate scheduled for execution, Gregory Lott of Cleveland, have filed in federal court seeking an injunction against his execution set for March 19. Lott’s attorneys cite McGuire’s execution, saying the state’s method is “cruel and unusual.”
Both reviews were sent to Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, per state policy.
State prison officials won’t comment on the third review that is underway. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said last week that his office is involved in a review of the McGuire execution and the state is giving U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost real-time updates on the investigation.