We're a hawk on the issues.

Dennis McGuire Execution Puts Spotlight on Experimental Drugs Used to Kill America’s Condemned

The family of executed Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire is suing the state after the condemned man snorted and gasped and took over 15 minutes to die Tuesday after an experimental drug cocktail, used for the first time in Ohio, failed to work quickly enough.

Earlier in the week, lawyers for McGuire had sought to stop the execution, claiming that at the untested combination of midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone would cause “agony and terror” and force McGuire to spend his last moments gasping for air.

Even the state’s own expert admitted before the execution that he did not know how long it would take McGuire to die.

“I truly don’t know how many minutes it will take the inmate to stop breathing,” Dr. Mark Dershwitz said prior to the execution, “There is no science to guide me on exactly how long this is going to take.”

In the end, the slow death of McGuire was excruciating for his family to watch.

“Oh my God,” Amber McGuire exclaimed as she watched her father mouth “I love you,” one minute into the execution and then a few minutes later emit a snoring sound that he continued to make for several minutes while opening and closing his mouth.

A cough was the last sound McGuire made before he finally died in the longest execution since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1999.

Amazingly, according to Elisabeth Semel, a clinic professor of law and director of the Death Penalty Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law, using untested cocktails to put people to death in America is common practice in the country’s death houses, due to a shortage of companies will to sell drugs intended to end someone’s life.

“This type of uncertainty is commonplace in executions today, as departments of correction scramble to find new drugs and new procedures to carry out executions in response to pharmaceutical companies taking steps to prevent the use of their products in executions,” she explained.

She added at the same time as states are passing laws to make execution drug suppliers secret, “states are changing their execution practices to include never-before-used drugs and compounded drugs with no public input or oversight.”

As a result, prisoners from around the country are being put to death with drugs with unreliable and untested outcomes and from pharmacies hidden and protected from the public eye.

In October 2013, Michael Yowell became the first to be executed in Texas using a new, compounded drug formula that his lawyers called, “a dramatic change from prior practice,” that was necessitated when the leading state for executions could no longer find the drug used for execution and resorted to a compounding pharmacy with few oversights.

Then, on Oklahoma condemned Michael Lee Wilson was administered a lethal dose of a compounded form of pentobarbital, once again sourced from a compounding pharmacy, on Jan. 9.

Wilson’s final words? “I feel my whole body burning.”

Photo Credit: Undated file photo/Ohio Dept. of Corrections

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.

  • Patricia Baldwin-Dennis

    How long did it take thg lady he killed (to receive his sentence) to die.

    • lugnut

      Was her family watching her die? And should his family pay for his crime too?

  • Mary Nichols

    Yes, this is a bad, bad man who deserved to suffer. It’s easy to divide the world up into bad people and innocent people and decide that the bad people deserve to suffer. What this man did is morally reprehensible. What we did to him is EQUALLY morally reprehensible.

  • Scar

    If they really wanted to be humane, the old method of the guillotine works wonders. One swift plunge of a sharp, heavy blade bring about a quick, painless death.

    Hell, you could even harvest their organs for transplant if you so wanted to. No drugs to mess with the inmate’s organs, and if they were healthy enough, the organs would probably be suited for saving a few people’s lives.
    Then again, that would also raise the debate on whether or not it would be morally appropriate to harvest the organs and/or if the person who receives the organ(s) would be comfortable having a murder’s parts in them.

    • dudleysharp

      Nitrogen Gas; Flawless, peaceful, unrestricted method of execution
      Dudley Sharp

      “(Dr. Phillip) Nitschke called (nitrogen gas hypoxia) “flawless” . . . Inhaling the pure nitrogen, patients lose consciousness immediately (in approximately 12 seconds) and die a few minutes later.” “. . . extremely quick . . . no drugs . . . reliable, peaceful, available . . . ” (1).

      No panic nor suffocation effect with nitrogen.

      “Close contact with an enclosed inert gas (as nitrogen) is lethal because it flushes oxygen from the body, but released into the open air, it quickly disperses, and is safe for others.” (2) A sealed gas chamber is not required – just an oxygen mask and a secured prisoner.

      1)”Exit International’s euthanasia device”, Euthanasia device,
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthanasia_device#Exit_International.27s_euthanasia_device, viewed/copied 3/13/2104.

      2) “Inert gasasphyxiation”
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inert_gas_asphyxiation, viewed/copied 3/13/2014


      International Humanitarian Hypoxia Project

      Is There A More Humane Way To Kill?, Lawrence Gist II, 6/22/09

      Creque, S.A. “Killing with kindness – capital punishment by nitrogen asphyxiation” National Review. 1995-9-11.


    At least we know it works now don’t we!

  • dudleysharp

    The (Imagined) Horror of Dennis McGuire’s Execution

    Clayton Lockett: The Case for Execution (Oklahoma)

    No “Botched” Execution – Arizona (or Ohio)

    Physicians & The State Execution of Murderers: No Medical Ethical Dilemma

    • Scooter Livingston

      You’re sick, Dudley

      • dudleysharp

        I am accurate and thorough.


        Immanuel Kant: “If an offender has committed murder, he must die. In this case, no possible substitute can satisfy justice. For there is no parallel between death and even the most miserable life, so that there is no equality of crime and retribution unless the perpetrator is judicially put to death.”. “A society that is not willing to demand a life of somebody who has taken somebody else’s life is simply immoral.”

        Pope Pius XII; “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52

        John Murray: “Nothing shows the moral bankruptcy of a people or of a generation more than disregard for the sanctity of human life.” “… it is this same atrophy of moral fiber that appears in the plea for the abolition of the death penalty.” “It is the sanctity of life that validates the death penalty for the crime of murder. It is the sense of this sanctity that constrains the demand for the infliction of this penalty. The deeper our regard for life the firmer will be our hold upon the penal sanction which the violation of that sanctity merit.” (Page 122 of Principles of Conduct).

        Plato: “Longer life is no boon to the sinner himself in such a case, and that his decease will bring a double blessing to his neighbors; it will be a lesson to them to keep themselves from wrong, and will rid society of an evil man. These are the reasons for which a legislator is bound to ordain the chastisement of death for such desperate villainies, and for them alone”

        William A. Petit, Jr.: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions,” according to philosopher John Rawls. It transcends national borders, races and cultures. The death penalty is the appropriate societal response to the brutal and willful act of capital felony murder. Every murder destroys a portion of society. Those murdered can never grow and contribute to humankind; the realization of their potential will never be achieved. I support the death penalty not as a deterrent or for revenge or closure, but because it is just and because it prevents murderers from ever harming again. By intentionally, unlawfully taking the life of another, a murderer breaks a sacrosanct law of society and forfeits his own right to live. (In a home invasion, Dr. Petit was, severely injured, his wife Jennifer and their 11 year old daughter Michaela were raped and murdered. Both daughters, Michaela and Hayley were burned, alive.)

        John Locke: “A criminal who, having renounced reason… hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or tyger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.” And upon this is grounded the great law of Nature, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Second Treatise of Civil Government.

        Saint (& Pope) Pius V: “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

        Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “In killing the criminal, we destroy not so much a citizen as an enemy. The trial and judgments are proofs that he has broken the Social Contract, and so is no longer a member of the State.” (The Social Contract)

        3300 additional pro death penalty quotes

        • Scooter Livingston

          No, Dudley…you’re sick and sadistic.

          George Stinney was exonerated. That must’ve ruined your day yesterday

          • dudleysharp


            You don’t fact check.

            Based upon the parts of the decison I have read, Stinney could not have been as was not exonerated.

            There is no evidence that he was innocent.

            His conviction was overturned based upon violations of due process, just as with 38% of modern day death penalty cases, with about 1% of those having credible actual innocent claims and none of those executed.

          • Scooter Livingston

            I see Dudley is a racist; loves hearing about 14 year old kids getting the chair. Move to Ferguson, You’ll fit right in.

          • dudleysharp

            False exoneration claims in death penalty cases are a real problem, climbing to 83% fraudulent in some states (1).

            The death penalty is ought for the same reason that all sanction are: Justice.

            1) see 3 & 4 first

            The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

          • Scooter Livingston
          • dudleysharp

            No. His sentnece was only overtunred based upon due process reasons.

            There was not, nor can there be, any finding for exoneration or actual innocence.

            Very obvious.

            Please, do better.

          • Scooter Livingston

            Dudley supports executing 14 year olds. You’re a sick fvck.

  • Scooter Livingston

    Josef Mengele would be proud