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After years of refraining from executing inmates on death row due to a critical shortage of the drugs needed for a lethal injection, Ohio announced a plan on October 3 to resume the practice in 2017.
The state told U.S. District Court Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. that it updated its execution protocol and would use a new combination of drugs similar to those used for executions in Oklahoma, reports NPR. The Oklahoma cocktail has already been approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled that it does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment as defined by the U.S. Constitution.
Convicted rapist and killer Dennis McGuire, who died in 2014, was the last inmate subject to death by lethal injection in the state. Officials administered a brand new two-drug cocktail to execute him, and it took more than 20 minutes for him to die.
"After filing the updated policy with Judge Sargus, [Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction] will proceed with the scheduled execution of Ronald Phillips in January 2017," DRC spokesperson JoEllen Smith said in a statement. "Phillips was convicted and sentenced to death in Summit County for the 1993 brutal rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl."
The state said in an October 3 hearing that the combination of midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride – the three drugs that will create the deadly cocktail – are separately approved by the FDA and come from a large manufacturer rather than a compounding pharmacy, though the state is not required to disclose the source and has not yet done so.
The move has been a controversial one, as activists and lawyers for the inmates have questioned whether the sedative midazolam is safe, effective and painless during executions.
"Medical experts have said that using midazolam will not reduce the substantial risk that Ohio will subject an inmate to an unconstitutional, agonizing execution," said federal public defender Allen Bohnert and Phillips' lawyer Timothy Sweeney in a statement. "The state's decision to ignore the experts is deeply troubling, particularly since the last time Ohio ignored the experts, it botched Mr. McGuire's execution and suffocated him to death."
The struggle to procure enough drugs to administer lethal injections began in 2011, when Hospira Inc., the sole U.S. maker of the anesthetic sodium thiopental, announced that they would no longer produce the drug, notes the Wall Street Journal.