The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 16, 2014

Ohio killer nears execution with untried method

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
Associated Press

COLUMBUS — The state made preparations Wednesday to use a never-tried lethal drug combination to execute a man for the slaying of a pregnant woman that went unsolved until he inadvertently led authorities to himself.

Jailed on an unrelated assault charge, Dennis McGuire told investigators he had information about the woman’s Feb. 12, 1989, death. His attempts to blame the crime on his brother-in-law quickly unraveled and soon he was accused of being the Joy Stewart’s killer, according to prosecutors. More than a decade later, DNA evidence confirmed McGuire’s guilt, and he acknowledged that he was responsible in a letter to Gov. John Kasich last month.

The state planned to execute McGuire today with a new process adopted after supplies of its previous drug dried up when the manufacturer put it off limits for capital punishment. The two-drug combination has never been used in a U.S. execution.

“One can scarcely conceive of a sequence of crimes more shocking to the conscience or to moral sensibilities than the senseless kidnapping and rape of a young, pregnant woman followed by her murder,” Preble County prosecutors said in a filing with the state parole board last month.

McGuire, 53, was moved from death row in Chillicothe on Wednesday morning to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville where executions are carried out. He was calm and cooperative and requested a last meal that included roast beef and fried chicken, said prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.

His attorneys argue McGuire was mentally, physically and sexually abused as a child and has impaired brain function that makes him prone to act impulsively.

“Dennis was at risk from the moment he was born,” the lawyers said in a parole board filing. “The lack of proper nutrition, chaotic home environment, abuse, lack of positive supervision and lack of positive role models all affected Dennis’ brain development.”

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show McGuire unsuccessfully sought a reprieve in recent weeks to try to become an organ donor. In November, Kasich granted a death row inmate an eight-month reprieve to let the prison system study his request to donate a kidney to his sister and his heart to his mother. Kasich said McGuire couldn’t identify a family member who would receive his organs, as required under prison policy.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday was still considering a last-minute request to delay McGuire’s execution on the grounds that a jury never got to hear the full extent of his chaotic and abusive childhood. The state says similar challenges have failed several times over the decades since Stewart’s death.

Ohio officials planned to use intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to put McGuire to death. The method has been part of Ohio’s execution process since 2009, though never used in this country.

McGuire’s attorneys say he is at substantial risk of a medical phenomenon known as air hunger, which will cause him to experience terror as he strains to catch his breath.

The state presented evidence from its own expert disputing the air hunger scenario, and saying McGuire waited far too long to file the appeal, which came earlier this month.

A federal judge sided with the state and said the execution can proceed.