UPDATE 3-Pregnant woman's killer executed in Ohio by new two-drug method

Fri Jan 17, 2014 4:15am IST

(Adds remarks from McGuire's attorney)
    By Kim Palmer
    CLEVELAND, Jan 16 (Reuters) - A man condemned for a rape and
murder convulsed and appeared to struggle for breath during his
execution in Ohio on Thursday after a two-drug lethal injection
method was used for the first time in the United States,
according to media witnesses.
    Dennis McGuire, 53, who was sentenced to death after his
conviction for the 1989 killing of a woman who was seven months
pregnant, was the third man executed in the United States this
year.
    McGuire received a combination of the sedative midazolam and
pain killer hydromorphone, a mix Ohio created as a substitute
option in case it had difficulty obtaining pentobarbital, a drug
whose manufacturer has objected to its use in executions.
    McGuire was pronounced dead at 10:53 a.m. ET (1553 GMT) at a
state prison, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and
Correction said in a statement.
    A Dayton Daily News reporter, who was present at the
execution said; "At 10:29 a.m., his eyes rolled back as if he
were going to sleep, and at 10:35 a.m., McGuire, who appeared to
be unconscious, was convulsing, gagging and struggling to
breathe."
    Prison spokeswoman, JoEllen Smith declined to comment on the
description given by the reporter and other witnesses that
McGuire struggled to breathe after the drugs were administered.
    McGuire's family members witnessing his execution could be
seen crying and a family member was heard saying "how could this
go on for so long?" the Daily News reported.
    Afterward, attorney Allen Bohnert, an assistant federal
public defender who represented McGuire, urged Ohio Governor
John Kasich to declare a moratorium on executions.
    "The experiment that was this execution has failed," Bohnert
said in a telephone interview.
    Bohnert did not witness the execution, but said reports he
received also indicated that McGuire gasped for breath for about
15 minutes after he was injected with the drugs.
    Lawyers for McGuire had argued in a last minute appeal that 
the never-before used drug combination would put him at a
substantial risk of severe pain and a terrifying inability to
breathe before he lost consciousness during the execution.
    U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost refused to stop the
execution, but ordered prison officials to preserve the
medication vials, the boxes in which they were packaged and the
syringes used for McGuire's execution.
    McGuire's execution was the third time Ohio has used
untested execution drugs. Three botched executions from 2006 to
2009 had resulted in Frost ruling Ohio's lethal injection
protocols unconstitutional and ordering a temporary halt to
executions.
    McGuire was convicted of the 1989 rape, kidnapping and
murder of Joy Stewart, whose body was found by hikers in woods
in western Ohio a day after she had been seen talking with
McGuire, according to court records.
    McGuire initially accused his brother-in-law of killing
Stewart, but DNA tests cleared the man and pointed to McGuire.
Additional DNA tests years later confirmed McGuire's guilt.
    Two days before a hearing on his petition for clemency in
December, McGuire admitted in a letter to Kasich that he had
killed Stewart during a heated argument. Kasich denied him
clemency.
    In a final statement, McGuire thanked Stewart's family for a
letter he apparently received from them and said, "To my
children, I love you. I'm going to heaven. I'll see you there
when you get there," Smith said.
    Ohio had planned to use the two-drug method in November to
execute condemned killer Ronald Phillips, but Kasich stayed his
execution to assess whether Phillips' non-vital organs or
tissues could be donated after his death.

 (Editing by David Bailey, Stephen Powell,  Sofina Mirza-Reid
and Bernard Orr)