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Official ‘wondered what was going on’ in McGuire execution

Federal trial addresses challenge to Ohio’s proposed new execution method

Ohio’s execution team leader testified Tuesday in federal court that the Dennis McGuire execution two years ago was unlike any of the other 48 executions he’s seen from his vantage point “less than an arm’s length away.”

Testifying behind a cardboard barrier and referred to only as Team Member No. 10, the man said McGuire’s execution affected him unlike any other and that he “was wondering what was going on” during McGuire’s lengthy execution.

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The execution team leader since 2001 testified in a bench trial that began Tuesday in Dayton’s U.S. District Court in front of Magistrate Judge Michael Merz.

Attorneys for death-row inmates are challenging Ohio’s proposed new process scheduled to begin Feb. 15 with the execution of Ronald Phillips for the 1993 rape and death of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in Akron.

The Associated Press reported that Ohio’s newest 3-drug execution method and protocol is either a legal approach to putting condemned killers to death or a process akin to burning inmates at the stake, according to arguments in the latest challenge to capital punishment in the state.

Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when death row inmate McGuire gasped and snorted during the 26 minutes it took him to die.

Attorneys for the state of Ohio asked Merz to close the courtroom to observers and the one media reporter in attendance, but Merz did not grant that request.

Team Member No. 10 confirmed that he spoke to a doctor friend to try to understand why McGuire’s body moved the way it did when none of Ohio’s modern-era executions followed this pattern.

The execution team leader also testified that if Ronald Phillips moved his body like McGuire did — but medical team members said Phillips was unconscious — the execution team would go ahead with the second and third drugs being proposed by the state of Ohio.

Team Member No. 10 also confirmed the several new consciousness checks officials can use to see if a death-row inmate is unconscious before more lethal drugs are delivered.

The team leader testified to his duties before the day of execution, saying he wants the inmate to “feel like a man again. Human” so that the inmate will willingly walk to the death house “in compliance with his head up.”

Testimony also was given Tuesday afternoon by Spencer J. Hahn, a federal public defender from the Middle District of Alabama and Columbus Dispatch reporter Alan Johnson, who was one of the media witnesses to McGuire’s execution.

The trial is scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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