Ohio's execution system faces new challenges after the first prisoner to be killed with a new drug method appeared to gasp several times and took nearly 25 minutes to die.
Family members of Dennis McGuire planned a Friday news conference to announce a lawsuit over his death, which they are calling unconstitutional. And it's almost certain lawyers will use Thursday's execution to challenge the state's plans to put a condemned killer to death next month.
"All citizens have a right to expect that they will not be treated or punished in a cruel and unusual way," defense attorney Jon Paul Rion, representing McGuire's adult children, said on Thursday. "Today's actions violated that constitutional expectation."
McGuire's attorney Allen Bohnert called the death "a failed, agonising experiment" and added: "The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names."
McGuire's lawyers had tried to block his execution, arguing that the untried method could lead to a medical phenomenon known as "air hunger" and could cause him to suffer "agony and terror" while struggling to catch his breath.
Nearly 25 minutes passed between the time the lethal drugs began flowing and the 53-year-old McGuire was pronounced dead. McGuire first lay motionless, followed by a sudden snort and then more than 10 minutes of irregular breathing and gasping. Normally, movement comes at the beginning and is followed by inactivity.
"Oh, my God," his daughter, Amber McGuire, said as she watched his final moments.
Executions under the old drug method were typically much shorter and did not cause the kind of sounds McGuire made.
Ohio prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith had no comment on how the execution went but said a review will be conducted as usual.
In pressing for the execution to go ahead, state assistant attorney general Thomas Madden had argued that while the US Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, "you're not entitled to a pain-free execution."
Prison officials gave intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to put McGuire to death for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant woman.
The new method was adopted after supplies of a previously used drug dried up because the manufacturer declared it off limits for capital punishment. Some of the other states that still carry out executions face similar challenges in finding drugs.
McGuire's attorney called on Ohio Gov. John Kasich to impose a moratorium on future executions.
The move will likely echo across the country as other states contemplate new drug methods, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
"Judges will now realise that the warnings being raised about these untried procedures are not just false alarms," he said in an email.