COLUMBUS, Ohio — The prolonged execution of an inmate during which he repeatedly gasped and snorted amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that should not be allowed to happen again, the inmate’s family said in a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed late Friday, also alleges the drug maker that produced the medications illegally allowed them to be used for an execution and should be prohibited from making them available for capital punishment.
Dennis McGuire “repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and arching his back, appearing to writhe in pain,” the lawsuit said. “It looked and sounded as though he was suffocating.”
McGuire’s execution Jan. 16 lasted 26 minutes, the longest since the state resumed putting inmates to death in 1999, according to an Associated Press analysis of all 53 execution logs maintained by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
It remains unclear what McGuire experienced. The AP observed him appearing to fall unconscious and remaining so while he snorted, gasped, and opened and shut his mouth repeatedly.
McGuire’s execution, during which his adult children sobbed in dismay, has led to several calls for a moratorium on capital punishment in the state.
In addition, a separate federal lawsuit filed Thursday seeks to stop the March execution of a northeast Ohio killer on the grounds that condemned inmates could be clinically alive for as long as 45 minutes after a time of death is announced in the state death chamber.
Lawyers for Gregory Lott, who is scheduled to die March 19 for setting an East Cleveland man on fire in 1986 and leaving him to die, also say Ohio is breaking state and federal law by using the drugs without a prescription.
The lawsuit by McGuire’s family targets Lake Forest, Ill.-based Hospira Inc., the manufacturer of the drugs used in McGuire’s execution.
The company knew its drugs were being used for executions but continued to sell them to Ohio, according to the lawsuit, which seeks damages above $75,000.
Hospira should have known that the drugs “would cause unnecessary and extreme pain and suffering during the execution process,” the lawsuit said.
In 2011, Hospira ended production of sodium thiopental, a drug used by many states for executions, including Ohio, after it couldn’t guarantee to Italian authorities where its factory was located that the drug wouldn’t be used for capital punishment.
The company also has prohibited other drugs from being used in executions, and will take the same steps for midazolam and hydromorphone, the drugs used in the McGuire execution, according to a company statement.
Medical experts wouldn’t comment on McGuire’s execution or speculate about what he experienced. They agreed that used for surgeries, the two drugs by themselves wouldn’t cause pain.
“They are actually used to prevent any pain or discomfort, in a surgical procedure or any other kind of procedure as well,” said Robert Weber, administrator for pharmacy services at the Ohio State University medical center.