Judge: Ohio#8217;s lethal injection unconstitutional

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 11, 2008

ELYRIA — Ohio’s method of putting prisoners to death is unconstitutional because two of three drugs used in lethal injection can cause pain, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The process doesn’t provide the quick and painless death required by Ohio law, said Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge, who agreed with two inmates facing murder charges who had challenged the procedure.

Ohio must stop allowing a combination of drugs and focus instead on a single, anesthetic drug, Burge said.

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State officials were reviewing the decision and had not determined if an appeal would be filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, said Jim Gravelle, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

In an interview in his chambers, Burge said his ruling applies only to the two inmates who challenged the procedure in his court and is likely not appealable unless one of the men gets sentenced to death.

He doubted the ruling would have a direct effect on executions in Ohio unless it influences the Legislature to change the wording of the law concerning lethal injection.

Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who supports the death penalty, said he hadn’t had a chance to discuss the ruling with his top legal adviser and couldn’t comment on its implications.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court turned back a constitutional challenge to the lethal injection procedure in Kentucky, which uses the same three drugs used in Ohio. The high court ruled that Kentucky’s procedure didn’t constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Ohio’s overall lethal injection protocol is similar to Kentucky’s but not identical.