Set to resume executions, Ohio hits legal snag

Raymond Tibbetts
Caption
Raymond Tibbetts

Three years after the execution of convicted killer Dennis McGuire made international news, Ohio is once again delaying carrying out the death penalty as it deals with legal hurdles.

Ohio is appealing the ruling that U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Merz in Dayton issued earlier this month that put an indefinite hold on three scheduled executions. In the meantime, Gov. John Kasich, who supports capital punishment, pushed back execution dates for two inmates: Ronald Phillips and Raymond Tibbetts.

Phillips, Tibbetts and other Death Row inmates are challenging a new Ohio law that keeps secret the source of lethal injection drugs. Their attorneys argue that they can’t adequately challenge the use of the drugs without access to the information.

Merz’ ruling stayed the executions of Phillips, Tibbetts and inmate Gary Otte until the case is decided by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in October announced plans to use a three-drug combination — midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride — for at least three executions. Phillips and other inmates want to block the new procedure, arguing that it will result in a painful death.

On Jan. 14, 2014, the department used a previously untested two-drug combo to execute McGuire. Witnesses reported that the execution took 26 minutes, during which McGuire gasped and snorted.

Ohio hasn’t had an execution since then and the two-drug protocol was scrapped.

Ohio and other states have had difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs because pharmaceutical companies, largely based in Europe, oppose having their products used in executions. In late 2014, Ohio lawmakers moved to grant absolute confidentiality to pharmacies and pharmacists who provide the lethal injection drugs and withhold other records from public disclosure.

The Death Penalty Information Center reported this month that death sentences, executions and public support for capital punishment all declined in 2016. This year, juries in U.S. courts imposed the fewest death sentences in the modern era — just 30 — and the 20 executions carried out mark the lowest number in a quarter of a century, DPIC said.

For the first time in more than four decades, no state imposed 10 or more death sentences and only five states — Ohio included — imposed more than one death sentence.

In 2016, 10 defendants in Ohio faced capital indictments, down from 26 in 2015, 29 in 2014, 21 in 2013, 36 in 2012 and 53 in 2011. Death sentences in Ohio climbed to four in 2016 compared with one in 2015, three in 2014, four in 2013, three in 2012 and two in 2011.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court set a Feb. 12, 2020, execution date for Lawrence Landrum, 55, a death row inmate convicted of killing Harold White, 84, during a robbery in 1985. Landrum’s execution is not certain even four years out because of continuing appeals and the state’s difficulties obtaining execution drugs.

Ohio has 32 executions scheduled between 2017 and 2021. Phillips, who was denied clemency, is scheduled to die Feb. 15, followed by Tibbetts on April 12.

Phillips was convicted in 1993 of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl. Tibbetts was convicted in 1998 for murdering his wife and their 67-year-old landlord.

Ohio has 138 inmates on Death Row.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.