The state of Ohio used up its last viable dose of the execution drug pentobarbital Wednesday in putting to death Garfield Heights killer Harry Mitts Jr. The European supplier will no longer sell the sedative to corrections departments because of its opposition to the death penalty. So now Ohio like many other states that impose the death penalty has to come up with an alternative quickly, since the next scheduled execution is in November, and there aren’t a lot of good options. Ohio has said it will reveal its decision by Oct. 4.
Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh Huggins, who wrote a book about Ohio’s death penalty, told Ohio Public Radio this weekthat most bets are on using a compounding pharmacy to make pentobarbital. That would be a controversial choice that would likely draw an immediate lawsuit, since quality control at poorly regulated compounding pharmacies was highlighted last year when more than 50 people died from contaminated drugs distributed by the New England Compounding Center.
Other possibilities include propofol, the drug that played a role in Michael Jackson’s death, or the two-drug cocktail of midazolam and hydromophone the state developed for injection directly into the muscle as a backup in case intravenous drugs didn’t work or, as in the case of the botched execution of Romell Broom in 2009, a usable vein couldn’t be found. Because none of these alternatives has been used in Ohio, any of them likely will prompt a lawsuit.
This Editorial Board has long opposed the death penalty. Earlier this month, wereiterated that position given the impending shortage of preferred execution drugs.
Most people think it’s fine if prisoners on death row suffer pain and anguish during their executions because of poorly administered drugs, poorly-made drugs, drugs that have never been used to kill a person before, drugs whose efficacy as a dealth penalty drug has never been studied or drugs that just don’t work. Such feelings are understandable. Most of the folks on Death Row committed horrific crimes (although not all are guilty, as the Innocence Project as shown.) But for all inmates, there are constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.
Our editorial board members share their thoughts below as the state confronts decision time, and we welcome your input in the comments below.
Elizabeth Sullivan, opinion director, Northeast Ohio Media Group:
The death penalty is wrong on so many levels — moral, practical, legal, societal — that the lack of appropriate drugs for carrying out the execution seems like a minor issue. Yet if society is going to adopt the pretense that it’s being ‘humane’ in putting people to death, it does matter whether these ill-studied drugs, some of them developed to put animals to sleep, work as advertised on human beings. Ohio should use this opportunity to impose a moratorium on the death penalty until — and if — it can assure that the penalty is carried out consistently, fairly, justly and humanely. And because it is impossible to make those assurances in the context of our current justice and corrections system, the death penalty should be abolished.
Kevin O’Brien, deputy editorial page editor, The Plain Dealer:
The state of Ohio doesn’t need and shouldn’t have a death penalty. The essential wrongness of it renders moot any argument about means or methods. The state will find a way to do what the law allows — even requires — it to do. But just as in the argument about abortion, discussions of pain and suffering or “quality control” — now there’s a ghoulish joke — are counterproductive because they pull us away from the key moral question: Is this the right thing to do? I submit that in this time and place, it is not the right thing to do, and that no method the state might employ will make it right.
Peter Krouse, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group:
The death penalty should be abolished for a multitude of reasons, perhaps the least of which is the availability of a suitable drug to do the deed. The death penalty does not deter crime and it is not needed to send a message to the public. It only serves as revenge for a victim’s loved ones. But consciously putting people to death, despite the horrific acts they may have committed, is beneath us as a society.
Thomas Suddes, editorial writer:
With exceedingly rare exceptions, the death penalty is unjustified. This void in Ohio’s medicine chest is a perfect opening to reconsider the death penalty in Ohio. That won’t happen, given not just the General Assembly but, likely, public opinion.
Still, in instance after instance, it’s been demonstrated that people have been wrongly convicted of death-penalty murder. It is also the case that the sanctions of the law, whether imprisonment or death, fall disproportionately on the poor. It is difficult to recall one instance in which the state of Ohio has executed a wealthy murderer. The wording of Ohio indictments did and may still assert that a defendant’s crimes detracted from “the peace and dignity of the state of Ohio.” Capital punishment, as now adjudicated and carried out, does the same.
Christopher Evans, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group:
Here’s a clue: When the European supplier of pentobarbital stops selling the lethal drug to prisons because of its opposition to the death penalty, it might be time to reconsider the value of state-sanctioned torture and murder.
“Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders,” Camus wrote.
The eye for an eye argument is barbaric.
We are better than that.
- Ohio may need to change executions
- Lethal drug shortage has states scrambling for new execution methods
- Ohio Uses State’s Last Dose Of The Lethal Injection Drug, Pentobarbital, To Execute Convicted Murderer Harry Mitts Jr.
- Ohio moves condemned inmate Mitts to death house