Botched execution fails to justify abolition of capital punishment

The prolonged execution this month of a man who raped, sodomized and murdered a 22-year-old pregnant Preble County woman in 1989 has renewed calls for Ohio to abolish capital punishment. Although the state must review what went wrong and why in the botched execution of Dennis McGuire, leaders and legislators should not let the unfortunate incident serve as an opportunist rationale for abandoning capital punishment for those convicted of committing the most egregious capital crimes.

We join those justice-loving Ohioans who have no sympathy for the devilish and criminal behavior of Dennis McGuire. Our sympathies rather extend to the too-often overlooked family of the victims, Joy Stewart and her soon-to-be-born son Carl.

Last Friday, the family of McGuire filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that the 26-minute Jan. 16 execution amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment sanctioned by the state. The lawsuit also alleges the drug maker that produced the medications illegally allowed them to be used for an execution.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials immediately responded to the prolonged execution by announcing that it would conduct a thorough review of what went wrong that caused McGuire to endure repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and gasping for air after the administration of the two-drug cocktail used for the first time to execute a capital felon in Ohio. If that review to discover a more speedy and less painful execution solution takes longer than March 19 – the next date with death for an Ohio killer – Gov. John Kasich should go as far as to impose a temporary moratorium on capital punishment.

The governor and legislators, however, should not go as far as to heed the calls of the American Civil Liberties Union and others for abolition of the death penalty in Ohio. Such calls remain misguided for they would deny a semblance of closure and justice for the forgotten families and friends of victims of our state’s most horrific and unspeakable crimes.


Yes, the state must work harder to ensure the problems surrounding McGuire’s execution – the longest in state history – are resolved and not repeated. But the less than one-half hour of anguish endured by McGuire on his death bed certainly pales in comparison to the pain produced by “Old Sparky,” the state’s electric chair used in executions until its mothballing in 2001.

Moreover, the botched lethal mix injected into McGuire’s body no doubt proved far less cruel and unusual than the punishment McGuire savagely inflicted on Stewart, nearly eight months pregnant at the time of the crime.

On Feb. 11, 1989, according to court documents and autopsy reports, McGuire sought sex from Stewart; she refused so he raped and sodomized her. Fearing he would go to jail for raping a pregnant woman, he choked her and slashed a 41/2-inch deep gash in her throat that severed her carotid artery and jugular vein. He then dumped her in a wooded area where hikers found her mutilated body the next day.

Contrast that ghoulish and prolonged terror and pain with the half-hour of discomfort suffered by McGuire, and no logical comparison can be found. Nonetheless, in coming days and weeks, we expect more forces opposing capital punishment to to decry the death penalty as a barbaric practice of state-sponsored killing and an inhumane form of retribution.

The death penalty, however, is neither inhumane nor retributive. It is justice. After all, executions primarily are not a transaction between a criminal and his victim or the victim’s family. It is a process whereby the state seeks justice for the people of Ohio.

The vast majority of Ohioans and Americans, according to credible public opinion polls, continues to concur by supporting the death penalty for the state’s most cruel and heartless killers. The state must respect that sentiment by working expeditiously to find a more suitable injectable execution solution. The longer the state delays cold-blooded killers’ legitimate and constitutional dates with death, the longer justice will be denied to the victims’ survivors and to the purity of jurisprudence in Ohio.

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