COLUMBUS, Ohio – The state’s former expert witness on lethal injection should have known that a condemned inmate would suffer because of a two-drug combo that had never been used before, the inmate’s family said in a lawsuit.
The lawsuit, expanded from an earlier filing, alleges that Dr. Mark Dershwitz knew inmate Dennis McGuire would suffer during the January execution but helped create the state’s new lethal injection policy anyway. The new complaint filed in federal court this month says Dershwitz also provided medical and scientific advice to the state prisons agency.
Even though he knew the risks of the two-drug method, “Dershwitz continued to bill for services and earn compensation from the State of Ohio to provide advice, expertise, assistance, counsel, and expert witness services to assist in the creation of Ohio’s Execution Protocol,” the lawsuit said.
Dershwitz, a University of Massachusetts anesthesiologist and pharmacologist, announced in June he would no longer act as an expert witness for states defending their lethal injection methods.
Dershwitz said Ohio had jeopardized his standing with the American Board of Anesthesiology in a news release it issued about the Jan. 16 execution of McGuire because it implied he consulted on the execution method, which is prohibited by the national board.
Dershwitz said in an email he was aware of the filing but couldn’t immediately comment.
The family also added drug distributor McKesson Corp. to the lawsuit, saying the company distributed the midazolam and hydropmorphone used to put McGuire to death. The family previously sued Hospira Inc., which makes the drugs.
Lake Forest, Illinois-based Hospira and San Francisco-based McKesson “knew or should have known that when used in executions, Hydromorphone and Midazolam would cause unnecessary and extreme pain and suffering during the execution process,” the lawsuit said.
Both companies declined to comment, as did the Ohio prisons agency.
The federal civil rights lawsuit originally filed in January by McGuire’s adult children alleges McGuire “suffered needless pain and suffering” during his execution. McGuire snorted and gasped several times during the 26 minutes — the longest of any Ohio execution — it took him to die.
McGuire was executed for the 1989 rape and stabbing death of Joy Stewart, 22, a recently married pregnant woman in western Ohio.
On April 28, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction concluded there was no evidence that McGuire “experienced any pain, distress or anxiety.”
Ohio has not been able to obtain supplies of its first choice, compounded pentobarbital, a drug used successfully by Missouri and Texas in several recent executions.
House lawmakers are considering a bill this week that would shield the names of companies providing lethal drugs to Ohio, a move aimed at obtaining compounded pentobarbital.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.