Ohio execution set in case that changed lethal injection process

Attorneys for Lawrence Reynolds claimed Ohio's three-drug lethal injection cocktail was 'flawed,' so it became the first state to use a one-drug method. The execution is scheduled for Tuesday.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections/AP/File
Lawrence Reynolds is scheduled to be executed in Ohio Tuesday. Challenges by his legal team played a role in changing Ohio's lethal-injection process.

An Ohio case that examined how death penalty inmates can be executed in the most humane way possible is expected to come to an end Tuesday when Lawrence Reynolds is slated to die by lethal injection.

Mr. Reynolds, who was convicted of the 1994 murder of Loretta Foster of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, has waited on death row while the court system decided what method of injection was lawful.

Last September, public defenders for Reynolds appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court and a federal appeals court for a stay of execution, arguing that Ohio's lethal-injection procedure – which at the time involved a cocktail of three drugs – was “flawed,” according to a court brief. Since then, Ohio has become the first state to employ a one-drug method, which involves a single but significantly larger dose of lethal fluids, which death penalty advocates say is painless.

The catalyst for the change was the September execution of Romell Broom, who was convicted of the 1984 abduction, rape, and murder of a 14-year-old girl.

In that case, authorities could not find a usable vein on Mr. Broom’s body in which to inject the three-drug cocktail. As a result, Broom was stuck with needles at least 18 times over the course of two hours. That incident followed two others in Ohio during the past three years, both of which involved difficulties inserting the IV.

Following the Broom execution, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) ordered the Reynolds execution postponed.

Reynolds’ legal team argued that Ohio's lethal-injection process was a violation of Reynolds' constitutional rights and that the state should not be allowed to execute him “with the same incompetent and ill-trained execution team.”

Ohio settled the matter to the courts' satisfaction by introducing the one-drug lethal injection in December, though Reynolds' legal team continued to argue that the state's executioners were not properly trained. According to reports, the execution team took 30 minutes to find a useable vein in December.

Following Ohio, Washington last month became the second state to adopt the one-drug procedure.

The recent evolution of the lethal injection process has come about because state prison authorities often botch the three-step procedure, which is designed to keep the prisoner from waking up during the final phase, when pain is said to be at its worst, says Stefanie Faucher, associate director of Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based advocacy group. Ms. Faucher says prison officials often use staffers instead of licensed medial professionals, which death penalty foes say points to a broken system.

“Each change is supposedly bringing about a new level of humaneness and a new level of santization, but in the end, it’s all still killing,” she says. “We have to ask ourselves … What are we trying to accomplish when we try to switch ways of killing that are less horrible, and should we should be killing prisoners?”

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