Federal Judge Rules Ohio's Lethal Injection Process Unconstitutional, Delays Three Executions


Magistrate Judge Michael Merz ruled today that Ohio's new three-drug lethal injection process is unconstitutional, the AP reports, capping a week of hearings on a method that's garnered plenty of doubt and concern across the state.

The execution for Ronald Phillips, scheduled to die Feb. 15, has been delayed. (This is not the first time for that.) Two other executions have been delayed, as well.

Merz's multifaceted ruling most significantly addresses the use of Midazolam, a sedative that has been publicly criticized and questioned since Ohio's last execution in 2014, when inmate Dennis McGuire sputtered and snorted his way through a lengthy death at the state's hands. Merz also targeted the other two drugs used in the lethal injection process.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins wrote for the AP: "Using those drugs is 'completely inconsistent with the position' the state previously took when it announced it would no longer use them in executions, the judge said."

In November, we reported on the lengthy and strange path that Ohio has taken to its three-drug "cocktail," now ruled illegal for use in lethal injection. It's worth revisiting and, like we wrote at that time, it's worth pointing out a sort of moral framing device: The debate over various execution drugs and the secrecy with which states surround them is an important Eighth Amendment issue and one that requires that taxpayers cast aside the personal histories of inmates for a moment (Phillips was sentenced to death for the 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, of course). Inmates derive rights from the Constitution, as well. That's where Merz comes in, and that's where the next round of debate will take us.

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