By Marc Kovac
COLUMBUS — The Death House at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility is a lone, nondescript brick building, detached from the main prison.
It’s the place where 32 Ohio inmates have been put to death since 1999, starting with Cuyahoga County murderer Wilford Berry Jr.
It’s the place Kenneth Biros, convicted in a gruesome 1991 murder in Trumbull County in which the victim was brutalized and dismembered, will take his last breaths, barring court intervention.
Biros’ execution is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday .
He is scheduled to make the trip from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville this morning and will likely arrive at the prison Death House between 9 and 10 a.m.
He’ll be under constant observation by at least three execution team members the entire time he is on site, state prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn told reporters during a media open house at the facility late last month.
Inmates spend most of their last 24 hours in a small cell that includes a bed, toilet and sink, television, compact disc player and Bible or other holy book. There are four narrow windows that can be cranked open, on request, to provide more air flow. There’s also a telephone directly outside the cell, from which the inmate can make calls.
Upon arrival, they’re allowed to take some personal belongings with them into the cell. Additionally, they’re “granted special meal requests that are reasonable and things that we can obtain,” Walburn said. “Generally, most of the food is food that we have here in the prison kitchen. We do not buy private meals from restaurants.”
Throughout the day, inmates are visited by the prison’s religious services staff and are subject to mental health and vein checks, in preparation for the next day’s execution. They also spend several hours in the evening in contact visits with family and friends in a nearby room. They’re allowed to hug and hold hands.
On the morning of the execution, inmates have cell-front visits with family and friends, legal counsel and spiritual advisers. They’re allowed to shower before preparation begins for the lethal injection.
About 15 minutes before the execution, the warden approaches the cell door and reads the death warrant to the prisoner. Then, volunteers enter the holding cell and attempt to insert IV shunts, to be used to carry the lethal injection.
Under the state’s new execution protocol, they can establish one or two shunts, starting with the “joint between the upper and lower arm” as the preferred injection site.
“We do not put a time limit on them,” Walburn said of the process. “We don’t want them to feel rushed in doing that. They take a lot of effort to do their jobs professionally and compassionately. And so they take a lot of time in inserting those IV lines appropriately.”
Inmates then make their final 17-step walk to the execution chamber, where they are strapped to a bed.
Witnesses observe from a small room, separated from the death chamber by a glass. The witness room is separated by a wall, with the victim’s family seated closes to the inmate’s head and others sitting at his feet.
The room includes a half a dozen or so chairs, boxes of tissue and two television monitors. The inmate and the witnesses can see each other through the glass.
“It’s much easier for him to view his family [because the bed is inclined in that direction],” Walburn said. “But he is able to turn his head and view the victim’s family if he chooses.”
In cases where suitable veins are found, tubing from an adjacent “equipment room” is connected to the shunts. In cases where suitable veins are not available, prison officials can opt to give a direct injection into one of the inmate’s large muscles — the thigh or deltoid, for example.
Only the warden and the execution team leader remain in the death chamber with the inmate during the final lethal injection. Prisoners are allowed to make a final statement, speaking into a microphone held by the warden.
“He is able to make any final statement that he wishes to make, and for as long as he wishes to make it, as long as it’s reasonable,” Walburn said. “I think the longest we’ve had is 7-9 minutes.”
The lethal injection is then administered, either from team members in another room or directly in the execution chamber. Once the inmate is no longer breathing, a curtain is pulled to block the view from the witness room, a coroner checks for signs of life, the curtain is pulled back and the warden announces the time of death.
Upcoming executions scheduled in Ohio:
Jan. 7: Vernon Lamont Smith, Lucas County
Feb. 4: Mark A. Brown, Mahoning County
March 9: Lawrence Reynolds, Summit County
April 20: Darryl Durr, Cuyahoga County
May 13: Michael Beuke, Hamilton County
June 10: Richard Neilds, Hamilton County
Source: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction