Ohio’s death penalty survived past challenges from people opposed to killing the worst of the worst in the state, eliminating rapists and murderers deemed impossible to rehabilitate.
Can it survive a blow by a Dayton magistrate judge who thinks he knows better than the U.S. Supreme Court?
Magistrate Judge Michael Merz in Dayton put a hold on the planned Feb. 15 execution of Ronald Phillips, who was sentenced to die for raping and killing his girlfriend’s 3-month-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, in 1993.
Merz’s reason focused on the sedative midazolam, the first step in a three-drug cocktail Ohio plans to use to sedate, paralyze and then stop the hearts of condemned inmates.
Merz wrote the drug couldn’t pass a constitutional bar of causing “substantial risk of serious harm” already set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
We’re saddened to see Merz is trying to rewrite what the U.S. Supreme Court already said. In reality, last year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in an Oklahoma case.
We’re also believe it’s the correct move that the state immediately appealed the case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
This feels like a case of legislating from the bench to us. Yes, some people object to executions. Still, they’re the law of the land in Ohio and a tool to curb bad behaviors.
Executions have become complicated enough in the state, ever since the prolonged death of Dennis McGuire in 2014. It took 26 minutes, the longest execution since the death penalty returned to the state in 1999.
Since then, Ohio changed its two-drug method, including now using a dose of midazolam that is 50 times more powerful to humanely end the life.
The state had trouble finding supplies of drugs, as drugmakers placed them off-limits for executions. Records show the state still has enough drugs on hand for dozens of executions, depending on when the drugs expire.
So when we see defendants’ attorneys and the judge suggesting the state should use a different drug, the anesthetic pentobarbital, it seems they’re trying to dictate how Ohio handles its prisoners deserving death. After all, pentobarbital, used frequently for animal euthanizations, can’t be imported into the U.S. for human executions, thanks to a ban by the European Union.
The constitution demands they avoid cruel and unusual punishments. A powerful sedative answers that call, humanely letting condemned prisoners drift off to an eternal rest in a way their victims never got to enjoy. Then the proposed paralysis eliminates much of the pain for the witnesses watching as the heart-stopping medication takes effect.
There haven’t been any executions since January 2014. There are 140 people on Ohio’s death row, including Allen County’s Jeronique Cunningham and Cleveland Jackson, awaiting the end of their lives. More importantly, there are victims of 140 people still awaiting justice, a justice being held off by a ruling by a judge who ignored the Supreme Court’s own words.
We urge the court of appeals to have a swift ruling, to put these horrid cases behind us and give the victims’ families the justice they’re owed.