Ohio postpones all executions this year while officials search for new lethal drug mix
Gurney used for lethal injections (AFP)

Ohio will postpone all six executions scheduled for 2015 because it needs more time to prepare for a new execution procedure and to secure a new supply of execution drugs, the state's prison department said on Friday.

Earlier this month, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction halted use of the two-drug lethal injection combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone after the protracted death of an inmate last year.

The state prison system wants to add a drug, thiopental sodium, previously used for lethal injections from 1999 to 2011, and pentobarbital as the two drugs permitted for lethal injections in the future.

Ohio and other states with the death penalty are seeking new execution drug formulations after some pharmaceutical companies stopped supplying products because they no longer wanted to be associated with capital punishment.

Last January, Ohio was the first state to use the combination of midazolam and hydromorphone when it executed Dennis McGuire for the 1993 rape and murder of a pregnant woman.

McGuire’s execution took 25 minutes and witnesses said he gasped and seized for 15 of those minutes.

A federal judge in May ordered a halt to Ohio executions to give attorneys for condemned inmates time to prepare challenges to the state's new plans for lethal injections.

In December, Ohio passed a law that provided confidentiality to compounding pharmacies that prepare the lethal formulations. Four death row inmates have filed a federal lawsuit against the new law, saying it violates their right to due process.

One of the plaintiffs, Ronald Phillips, was scheduled for execution on February 11 for the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 3-year old daughter. The Phillips execution has been moved to Jan. 21, 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction.

A total of eleven death row inmates in Ohio are now scheduled for execution in 2016.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday to temporarily block the execution of three Oklahoma inmates who are challenging that state’s lethal injection procedure.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer, editing by Mary Wisniewski and Diane Craft)