LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A condemned Ohio killer was preparing for his execution by a never-tried lethal injection method adopted after supplies of the state's previous drug dried up.
Death row inmate Dennis McGuire would become the first prisoner put to death in the U.S. by the two-drug combination if his execution proceeded Thursday.
Ohio officials planned to use intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to put McGuire to death. The method has been part of Ohio's execution process since 2009, though never used in this country.
McGuire's attorneys say he is at substantial risk of a medical phenomenon known as air hunger, which will cause him to experience terror as he strains to catch his breath.
The state presented evidence from its own expert disputing the air hunger scenario, and saying McGuire waited far too long to file the appeal, which came earlier this month.
A federal judge sided with the state and said the execution can proceed. At the request of McGuire's lawyers, Judge Gregory Frost on Wednesday also ordered the state to photograph and then preserve the drugs' packaging boxes and vials and the syringes used in the execution.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-minute request to delay McGuire's execution on the grounds that a jury never got to hear the full extent of his chaotic and abusive childhood. The court's denial Wednesday included no explanation.
McGuire, 53, was sentenced to die for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of Joy Stewart in Preble County in western Ohio.
Stewart's slaying went unsolved for 10 months until McGuire, jailed on an unrelated assault and hoping to improve his legal situation, told investigators he had information about the woman's Feb. 12, 1989, death. His attempts to blame the crime on his brother-in-law quickly unraveled and soon he was accused of being Stewart's killer, according to prosecutors.
More than a decade later, DNA evidence confirmed McGuire's guilt, and he acknowledged that he was responsible in a letter to Gov. John Kasich last month.
"One can scarcely conceive of a sequence of crimes more shocking to the conscience or to moral sensibilities than the senseless kidnapping and rape of a young, pregnant woman followed by her murder," Preble County prosecutors said in a filing with the state parole board last month.
His attorneys argue McGuire was mentally, physically and sexually abused as a child and has impaired brain function that makes him prone to act impulsively.
"Dennis was at risk from the moment he was born," the lawyers said in a parole board filing. "The lack of proper nutrition, chaotic home environment, abuse, lack of positive supervision and lack of positive role models all affected Dennis' brain development."
Documents obtained by The Associated Press show McGuire unsuccessfully sought a reprieve in recent weeks to try to become an organ donor. In November, Kasich granted a death row inmate an eight-month reprieve to let the prison system study his request to donate a kidney to his sister and his heart to his mother.
Kasich said McGuire couldn't identify a family member who would receive his organs, as required under prison policy.
McGuire was calm and cooperative when he arrived at the death house in southern Ohio Wednesday morning. He requested a last meal of roast beef and fried chicken, typically served the afternoon before the execution.
Ohio lost its previous execution drug when the manufacturer put it off limits for capital punishment. The two-drug combination has never been used in a U.S. execution.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus