Ohio Death Row Inmate Pushes for Lethal Injection Reform Before Planned Execution

An Ohio Judge is permitting a planned execution to proceed, despite concerns that the process is tantamount to torture.

Death Row inmate Keith Henness and his legal team are attempting to find any alternative to the controversial form of lethal injection currently used by Ohio and other states. In its current form, Ohio uses a three-drug cocktail that contains midazolam. Though numerous officials and experts on the matter testified that this drug could cause a horrifically painful death, similar to waterboarding, the judge is permitting the execution to move forward.

In March 1992, according to court documents, Henness told lab technician Richard Myers that he required his assistance in staying off of drugs. he asked him to come by his home under the pretext of keeping him from relapsing into drug use. When he arrived, Henness kidnapped him, bound and gagged him, then stole his car, checkbook, money, wallet, and cut off his finger to steal his wedding ring. He then murdered Myers by slicing his throat and shooting him in the face multiple times. Afterward Henness, his wife, and another man purchased a large amount of various drugs and spent the next few days in a druggy haze before being arrested. Though Henness has maintained his innocence since his arrest, the evidence has never vindicated his version of events.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that an inmate can propose alternatives to the state-approved form of execution, should they find it excessively cruel. However, the inmate and his lawyers must propose a feasible alternative that is within reason.  Henness wanted to be issued a large amount of secobarbital mixed into a drink. This drug is commonly used to treat insomnia and anxiety and is, generally, only lethal in large doses. The appeal was rejected as the lawyers could not find a means by which to procure the drug.

The main issue with Ohio’s currently used lethal injection cocktail is the inclusion of midazolam. The drug, in small doses, is intended to be an anesthetic. Even in executions, it is only supposed to sedate the inmate. However, in the large doses that it is prescribed utilized in lethal injections, it attacks the lungs and causes pulmonary edema. Fluid fills the lungs and death by drowning is common. Should the inmate survive, the rest of the cocktail’s effects become far more pronounced and painful.

Midazolam has been used in seven states; Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas, and Tennessee. There have been a number of troubling results of its use. An Alabama inmate took more than fifteen minutes to die and witnesses reported that he was gasping for air throughout the execution. Arizona and Florida have stopped using the drug. in 2014 Ohio briefly stopped but reintroduced it in 2016.

Capital punishment, in any form, remains controversial to this day, however, due in large part to the profound religious implications, opinions rarely fall along party lines. There is growing bipartisan support for banning the practice nationwide.

No date has yet been set for Henness’ execution.

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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to [email protected]
Background Phot “Lethal Injection” by Ken Piorkowski. CC BY-SA 2.0.




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