Ohio executes inmate with untried injection method

Professor Deborah Denno in Reuters, December 08, 2009

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Ohio executes inmate with untried injection method
3:02pm EST
By Jim Leckrone

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Ohio put to death a convicted killer on Tuesday with a single dose of a lethal chemical, the first time the method has been used in the United States.

Kenneth Biros, 51, convicted of the 1991 murder of a woman, was pronounced dead nine minutes after receiving an injection of the anesthetic sodium thiopental at the Southern Ohio Correction Facility in Lucasville, a prison spokeswoman said.
Prison spokeswoman Julie Walburn said the execution proceeded without any problems. Executioners, however, made nine attempts before finding a vein to inject Biros with the drug, commonly known as Sodium Pentothal.

"Sorry from the bottom of my heart," Biros said in the death chamber before the execution was carried out. Witnesses said he blinked a few times and then appeared dead.

Ohio's new method replaced a faster-acting three-drug cocktail commonly used in the United States and was put in place to try to end a lawsuit that charged the cocktail, which also starts with Sodium Pentothal, could cause pain.

Ohio's method is similar to how animals are euthanized. Biros' lawyer called the untested process "experimentation," but courts rejected the inmate's appeals.

NEW PROTOCOL
Executions were temporarily put on hold in Ohio in September after executioners tried unsuccessfully for two hours to find a suitable vein to inject inmate Rommel Broom, jabbing him repeatedly. Broom remains on death row.

Under the new protocol, if a suitable vein is not located for the single injection, executioners will inject two potent painkillers -- hydromorphone and midazolam -- into the muscles of the inmate's arm, leg or buttocks.

The two drugs, administered in high doses, halt breathing.

Fordham University Law Professor Deborah Denno, an expert on lethal injection, said there were serious problems with the new single-drug method, including the difficulties executioners can have finding a vein.

She said the backup plan could lead to a "slow, lingering death with the inmate in a state of confusion, disorientation, and intense psychological anguish and torment."

An unofficial seven-month moratorium on U.S. executions ended in April 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled lethal injection was not cruel and unusual punishment. The three-drug method employs a sedative to cause unconsciousness, a second drug to paralyze the body and a third to stop the heart.

The execution marked the second time in three years Ohio has revised the method. Lethal injection was questioned in 2006 after a man who was supposed to be unconscious suddenly struggled and said the drugs were not working.

Ohio then created a "set-to-die" revision requiring the warden to call out the condemned man's name and shake and pinch his shoulder to ensure unconsciousness after the sedative was administered.

Biros was the 51st person executed in the United States in 2009 and the fifth in Ohio this year.

He was convicted of strangling to death Tami Engstrom, 22, to whom he had offered a ride from a bar. Biros also raped, beat, and stabbed his victim 91 times before disemboweling her and scattering the body parts across two states.

Biros requested a last meal of cheese pizza, onion rings and fried mushrooms, chips with French onion dip, cherry pie, blueberry ice cream and a Dr. Pepper soft drink.

(Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Paul Simao)