Ronald Phillips was supposed to die last week, paying the ultimate price for the brutal murder of a young Akron girl 20 years ago.
Instead, Gov. John Kasich gave him a few extra months to live to see if it’s possible to remove a kidney, his heart and possibly other organs to donate to sickly relatives and others who need the tissue.
“Ronald Phillips committed a heinous crime for which he will face the death penalty,” Kasich said in a released statement announcing his decision. “I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues then we should allow for that to happen.”
Politics aside, it was a bold move by Kasich that has generated national attention and further solidified his reputation as a compassionate guy who is willing to take flak for potentially unpopular positions on issues.
But it raises questions:
Is this going to lead to a flood of offers from other death-row inmates whose executions are imminent, particularly those who have exhausted all of their options?
Phillips was at the end of his legal rope and was slated to be the first inmate put to death under a new two-drug protocol after state prison officials ran out of the former lethal injection drug.
He was even in his holding cell at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility’s Death House.
Instead, he packed up his stuff and headed back to Chillicothe to determine whether he can donate some organs before being executed next July.
What about his health?
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the state could oversee the removal of some of his organs, then have to provide quality health care to help him recuperate enough so that they could then turn around and put him to death.
Will Ohio’s death row become a sudden source of transplantable organs?
Phillips’ legal counsel noted in their letter to prison officials, “because the state no longer utilizes pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride in its execution protocol, an inmate’s bodily organs are not damaged or destroyed during Ohio’s execution process. Thus, a barrier that might have existed in the past to the humane donation of at least some organs is no longer a barrier today as to any organs.”
What does this do to the reputation of the condemned?
Remember, there are family members and friends of a defenseless girl who was murdered here and who have been waiting for Phillips to be executed.
“Ron is making this request without any conditions or expectations,” Phillips’ attorneys wrote to prison officials. “If he had his choice, he would like that one or both of his kidneys, if a match, go to his mother who is suffering from kidney disease and on dialysis, and for his heart to go to his sister, who has a heart condition. But, even if his specific suggestions as to recipients cannot be honored, he is nonetheless willing to do whatever is necessary to enable as many people as possible to benefit from his death.”
On the one hand, that’s commendable.
On the other, it’s a slap in the face to those whose lives he ripped apart.
Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent.