ELYRIA — One day after county Common Pleas Judge James Burge released state documents detailing the state’s lethal injection protocols, a murder suspect is asking another county judge to throw out the death penalty as a possible sentence in his case.
Neil Simpson is the only one of three men charged in connection with a string of robberies — one of which left Lorain pizza shop owner David Kowalczyk dead — who could face a death sentence if convicted. Police believe Simpson fired the fatal shot.
Simpson joins several other defendants facing the death penalty who have asked Lorain County judges to throw out the death penalty on the grounds that it violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Burge already has agreed to hold hearings on whether the state’s lethal injection process provides a quick and painless death. He forced the state to turn over hundreds of pages of documents earlier this month to defense attorneys for accused killers Ruben Rivera and Ronald McCloud.
The state had asked those documents to be sealed, and Burge granted that request but has since unsealed and released the documents, which provide details on the training for people serving on the state’s execution team and how they carry out executions.
Kenneth Lieux, who represents Rivera and Simpson, said he hopes that Judge Mark Betleski also will agree to hold hearings on the lethal injection process. He said he had already filed one motion challenging the death penalty’s constitutionality in the Simpson case, but Betleski asked him to file it again to clarify the issue.
Lieux said the issues are the same “not just in Rivera, but all death penalty cases.”
Still he’d like a hearing similar to what Burge plans to do next year and has asked Betleski to allow him to hire an anesthesiologist and neurologist to review the state’s lethal injection process.
Another county judge, James Miraldi, threw out requests in the case of two men facing execution if convicted in another killing, saying it was best to let Burge hold the hearings instead of duplicating his efforts.
Jeff Gamso, legal director for the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and an attorney for Rivera and McCloud, said that despite the volume of documents he’s received, a lot about how Ohio carries out executions remains unclear. He said he still questions the training and qualifications of the people who handle the injection of the deadly three-drug cocktail that the state uses to kill condemned inmates.
“I still don’t know that there’s anybody there who knows what they’re doing,” Gamso said.
The documents provided by the state don’t detail the medical training of execution team members beyond saying that two members are emergency medical technicians and a third member is legally allowed to inject drugs under Ohio law.
“Putting a needle in somebody’s arms doesn’t mean the drugs are going where they’re supposed to go,” Gamso said.
Gamso said he’s glad the documents have been made public, but he’s waiting for experts to review them to determine if they’ll be of any value.
Death penalty critics are challenging lethal injection on the grounds that the first drug given to a condemned inmate, a sedative, might wear off before the other two drugs finish killing the inmate. If the sedative does wear off, the inmate would suffer excruciating pain but would be paralyzed and unable to cry out.
The state contends that the lethal injection process it uses — which is also being challenged in federal lawsuits elsewhere in the country, including one that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on this year — is a humane way of execution.
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