Washington (AFP) – A U.S. murderer struggled and gasped for air for at least 10 minutes as he was put to death in a prolonged execution using a controversial new drug cocktail, according to witnesses.
A journalist for the Columbus Dispatch newspaper present at the execution of 53-year-old Dennis McGuire reported that the Ohio killer made “snorting and choking” sounds as he succumbed.
Ohio officials told AFP that McGuire, sentenced to death in 1989 for the rape and murder of a young pregnant woman, was declared dead at 10:53 am.
Journalists who witnessed the execution said the drugs used in the lethal injection had begun to be administered 24 minutes earlier at the prison in Lucasville.
Under a new Ohio protocol, McGuire was executed using a cocktail comprising the sedative midazolam and analgesic hydromorphone, a combination never previously used in the United States.
The new execution protocol was introduced after Ohio and other U.S. states that retain the death penalty began running out of barbiturates when European manufacturers stopped supplying them.
McGuire’s lawyers had opposed the method of execution, saying the killer would die of asphyxia in a phenomenon known as “air hunger,” inflicting the sort of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited under the U.S. Constitution.
But appeals, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, were rejected.
A federal judge in Ohio, Gregory Frost, said “the evidence before the court failed to present a substantial risk that McGuire will experience severe pain.”
Journalists who witnessed Thursday’s execution said McGuire appeared to be suffocating as he was put to death.
According to the pool of reporters, it was the longest execution since Ohio re-introduced the death penalty in 1999.
“At about 10:33 am, McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds that lasted for at least 10 minutes, with his chest heaving and his fist clenched,” the Columbus Dispatch reported.