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Ohio inmate to endure suffocation-like ‘air hunger’ upon execution - expert

Published time: January 10, 2014 23:08
Edited time: January 11, 2014 03:38
The witness room facing the execution chamber of the "death house" at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. (AFP Photo / Caroline Groussain)

The witness room facing the execution chamber of the "death house" at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. (AFP Photo / Caroline Groussain)

An Ohio prisoner scheduled to be put to death next week by an untested execution method faces the likelihood that he will suffer from air hunger, a phenomenon in which a person becomes terrified and can’t catch their breath, a medical expert testified.

David McGuire, 53, is a convicted killer who suffers from sleep apnea, which includes symptoms that make it difficult for a person to breath when they are asleep. As such, according to anesthesiologist and Harvard medical school professor David Waisel, McGuire faces a higher than average risk of experiencing a suffocating sensation in his waning moments.

Mr. McGuire is at a substantial risk of experiencing the terror of air hunger during the first five minutes of the execution,” said Waisle, as quoted by the Associated Press. “Air hunger is a horrible feeling. It’s the inability to get your breath.”

The anesthesiologist testified Friday at the beginning of a two-day hearing seeking to investigate the drugs Ohio authorities will introduce for capital punishment. To kill McGuire, state authorities plan to use intravenous doses of midazolam (a sedative) and hydromorphone (a painkiller).

This method has been publicly acknowledged since 2009, although it has never been used until now. European nations, which traditionally supply the drugs to Ohio and other states where capital punishment is legal, have refused to supply the drug on moral grounds – leading to a shortage and new desperation.

Federal judge Gregory Frost is also expected to hear arguments from a state anesthesiologist that the drug cocktail will cause no such reaction in McGuire. Critics say that killing McGuire, or any inmate, in this way constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is specifically forbidden in the US Constitution.

McGuire will experience the agony and terror of air hunger as he struggles to breathe for vies minutes after defendants intravenously inject him with the execution drugs,” his attorney claimed this week in a court filing.

McGuire was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 rape and stabbing of 22-year-old Joy Stewart. Stewart, who was pregnant and newly married, was killed just hours after she met McGuire the first time at a friend’s house where he was cleaning gutters. The Ohio parole board has criticized McGuire for consistently avoiding responsibility, including one instance in which he claimed the murder was the result of a domestic situation.

McGuire’s crime is very disturbing in character, as it involved the rape and slaying of a nearly eight-month-pregnant woman,” the board said.

McGuire’s attorneys also submitted a court filing this week asserting that he was sexually and physically abused as a child, at one point suffering a head wound that caused him to act impulsively.

Dennis was at risk from the moment he was born,” the defense team wrote. “The lack of proper nutrition, chaotic home environment, abuse, lack of positive supervision and lack of positive role models all affected Dennis’ brain development.”

Attorneys for the prosecution are expected to argue on the state’s behalf on Monday.