Ohio Governor issues reprieve to death row inmate due to concerns about execution drugs; orders review of lethal injection drug protocol

The Lethal Injection Information Center - January 2019

On January 25, 2019, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a temporary reprieve to death row inmate Warren Henness in response to a judicial ruling that Ohio’s lethal injection cocktail will “very likely cause . . . severe pain and needless suffering.” The governor also ordered the prison system to re-examine its lethal injection execution protocol.

The legal ruling was issued by federal magistrate judge Michael Merz, who found that Ohio’s three-drug lethal injection protocol (consisting of midazolam, followed by a paralytic drug and a dose of potassium chloride) will “very likely cause him severe pain and needless suffering.” Specifically, the court found that “midazolam at any dosage level has no analgesic properties” and “cannot prevent the pain incident to the second and third drugs from reaching the brain of the condemned inmate.” The court also found that “midazolam itself [in the dosage called for by Ohio’s execution protocol] is or certainly or very likely causes pulmonary edema, which is both physically and emotionally painful to a severe level.”

However, Merz allowed Henness’ execution to proceed because, under a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, death row inmates challenging how they will be put to death must show that an alternative means of execution is “available,” “feasible,” and can be “readily implemented.”

Governor DeWine has also directed the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to assess Ohio’s current options for execution drugs and examine possible alternative drugs.