Ohio Won't Execute Any Death Row Inmates Until 2015, At The Very Least

Across America, a number of states are now dealing with how best to execute death row inmates, after a string of botched lethal injections. From the execution of Dennis McGuire in January to that of Clayton Lockett in April and Joseph Wood in July, these inhumane executions — with the lethal drug taking as long as two hours to kill, in Wood's case — have badly shaken confidence in the practice. Which is why Ohio's death penalty freeze was extended by a judge Monday, freezing any further executions until at least 2015.

Ohio's halt on executions was put into place in response to the aforementioned killing of Dennis McGuire, a convicted rapist and murderer who gasped and snorted throughout his nearly 25-minute execution. His was the first execution in which the state had used a controversial (because it seemed not to work, frankly) new lethal injection cocktail, a mixture of hydromorphone and midazolam according to Time, necessitated by the unavailability of sodium thiopental. Ohio state prison officials maintain McGuire did not suffer during the execution, despite the appearance that he did.

Judge Gregory Frost's ruling to extend the state's moratorium came in response to an impending execution, also to be performed with that two-drug combination. According to the AP, the decision will prevent the execution of Ronald Phillips, convicted for the rape and murder of her girlfriend's three-year-old child in 1993.

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Frost's extension is valid until January 15, which means Ohio officials will have another four months or so to grapple with the ethical and procedural issues at play. The recent spate of botched lethal injections has sparked argument over whether a process than could potentially take that long — potentially from 20 minutes to two hours, based on recent examples — can truly be considered the most humane option open to the states.

Some state lawmakers, believe it or not, have proposed that firing squads be reinstated to alleviate the situation. Since the start of 2014, the idea's been floated by Republicans in Wyoming, Missouri and Utah. And while that may seem absurd and barbaric at first blush, really, it's a valid question: would you rather risk a slow death strapped to a table, or be quickly shot and be done with it? It's a deeply uncomfortable question, but it's the sort that'll always be grappled with as long as different states continue to embrace capital punishment.

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That, of course, is always the bigger and deeper question — does a humane way for the state to take a life actually exist? Is it too risky, in light of considerable evidence that innocent people have been executed? Is it all simply rotten to the core? Opinions on that question obviously differ, with hard-earned vehemence and passion on both sides. But in Ohio, at least, the side of prudence and restraint seems to have won out, even if only for a few months time.

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