Governor says 'no executions' without court-backed drugs

Analysis on Litigation

Recent statements and actions by Gov. Mike DeWine suggest Ohio could go years without executing another death row inmate.

Last month, the Republican governor ordered the prison system to come up with a new lethal drug protocol after a federal judge's scathing critique of the first drug in Ohio's method.

Last week, DeWine said Ohio "certainly could have no executions" during that search and the court challenges that would follow adopting a new system.

After Ohio started looking for new drugs in 2014, it took the state more than three years to establish its current three-drug lethal injection protocol. Since then, it has become even more difficult for states to find drugs, meaning a new search could easily last as long.

The first drug in Ohio's new system, the sedative midazolam, has been subject to lawsuits that argue it exposes inmates to the possibility of severe pain because it doesn't render them deeply enough unconscious.

Because of Ohio's use of midazolam, federal Judge Michael Merz called the constitutionality of the state's system into question in a Jan. 14 ruling and said inmates could suffer an experience similar to waterboarding.

But because attorneys for death row inmate Keith Henness didn't prove a viable alternative exists, Merz declined to stop the execution. But DeWine did, postponing Henness' execution from Feb. 13 until Sept. 12, although that would be contingent on the state having a new, court-approved lethal injection system in place, which is unlikely in that time frame.

Ohio is also scheduled to execute Cleveland Jackson on May 29, a timeline Merz questioned last week, given the governor's order.

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