OUR VIEW: An execution is not a license for torture

Agonizing death at hands of state of ohio prompts questions

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Dennis McGuire, who raped and murdered a pregnant newlywed 25 years ago, went to his death gasping, snorting and struggling to breathe. It took him 26 minutes to die at the hands of the State of Ohio.

McGuire’s prolonged execution — which took longer to complete than any other in the 15 years since Ohio resumed putting people to death — has drawn charges of cruel and unusual punishment. His family, who witnessed his final moments, plans to bring a federal lawsuit against the state.

“Nobody deserves to go through that,” said the dead man’s son and namesake, Dennis McGuire.

He’s right. Not even a killer convicted of a terrible crime.

While some may argue that McGuire’s horrible end — a spectacle witnessed by his adult children — is a fitting punishment for the crime that landed him in the death chamber, death by lethal injection is supposed to be relatively painless. Capital punishment remains on the books in Ohio, but state-sanctioned killing is not a license to torture.

Most Ohio inmates executed since 1999 have taken 15 minutes or less to die, records show. Some died in less than 10 minutes when the state used a three-drug combination. McGuire, 53, was given two drugs — a sedative and a painkiller — but the combination had never been used before in a U.S. execution. 

Alan Johnson, a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch who witnessed the execution on behalf of the Statehouse press corps, reported McGuire made a “series of rattling, gasping, choking ... sounds” shortly after the drugs entered his system. “There was a struggle, a life struggle, going on,” said Johnson, who has witnessed 18 other Ohioans being put to death. 

Amber McGuire, the dead man’s daughter, said she watched her father attempt to sit up from the gurney where he received the lethal injection. “I watched his stomach heave ... It appeared to me he was fighting for his life but suffocating.”

There is no humane way to put a human being to death. An execution, the taking of a human life by the state, is the most drastic, final punishment that a “civilized” society can impose. The death McGuire endured was a brutal one; a euthanized dog or cat meets an easier end. 

Dennis McGuire wasn’t a saint. He took a human life, brutally and willfully, and survived his victim by a quarter-century.  But the prolonged, agonizing death he met — a death sanctioned by the state of Ohio and paid for by the tax dollars of its citizens — was unnecessarily cruel and painful punishment. His ordeal can’t help but cause second thoughts about capital punishment. 

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  • Why not just give them an overdose of heroin? They would at least have a smile when they die?