October 25, 2014

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Expert says inmate at risk for suffocation-like syndrome with execution method

Dennis McGuire

Dennis McGuire

COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio inmate facing execution next week from an untried method is at substantial risk of a medical phenomenon known as air hunger, which will cause him to experience terror as he strains to catch his breath, an anesthesiologist testified Friday at a federal court hearing.

Because condemned killer David McGuire has several characteristics of someone with sleep apnea, or the struggle to breathe while asleep, the chances are even greater he will be subjected to feelings of suffocation, said David Waisel, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

“Mr. McGuire is at a substantial risk of experiencing the terror of air hunger during the first five minutes of the execution,” Waisel testified as a witness for defense attorneys trying to stop McGuire’s execution Thursday.

“Air hunger is a horrible feeling,” Waisel added. “It’s the inability to get your breath.”

Waisel testified at the beginning of a two-day hearing on the state’s new lethal drug process.

Ohio plans to use intravenous doses of two drugs, midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller, to put McGuire to death. The method has been part of Ohio’s execution process since 2009, though never used. It was chosen because of a shortage of other lethal injection drugs.

The U.S. Constitution bans executions that constitute cruel and unusual punishment. But that doesn’t mean procedures that are entirely comfortable, an assistant Ohio attorney general told Frost.

“You’re not entitled to a pain-free execution,” attorney Thomas Madden said.

The state also says its own anesthesiology expert is ready to argue that experiments disprove the air hunger experience alleged by McGuire’s attorneys.

Such dueling arguments have taken place often in federal judge Gregory Frost’s courtroom over the years. Frost has heard numerous arguments for and against Ohio’s lethal injection process.

He has never ruled the drugs themselves unconstitutional, but he has at times harshly criticized the state for conducting haphazard executions by not closely following its own policies.

McGuire, 53, was sentenced to die for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of Joy Stewart in Preble County in western Ohio. The 22-year-old Stewart was newly married and pregnant.

“McGuire will experience the agony and terror of air hunger as he struggles to breathe for five minutes after defendants intravenously inject him with the execution drugs,” the inmate’s attorneys said in a Monday court filing.

Higher courts have twice rejected claims that the drugs pose a risk of severe pain, the state argued in opposing McGuire’s attempt to stop his execution.

The state says that because courts have upheld the use of those drugs in the backup method, McGuire can’t challenge their use just because they are to be given intravenously.

There is no excuse for not raising this claim years ago, “much less presenting it for the first time in an eleventh-hour stay of execution,” lawyers for the Ohio attorney general’s office said in their filing.

The U.S. Supreme upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection six years ago, The state also said the constitutionality of lethal

Late Wednesday, McGuire’s attorneys filed a separate appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, saying information about his chaotic childhood of abuse and neglect could have prevented him from being sentenced to death if it was presented at trial.

The filings argue McGuire was so malnourished as a child that his stomach was swollen and distended. He also had to frequently steal food for himself and his younger sister, the appeal said.

McGuire was physically abused by at least four different parental figures and shows signs of brain damage from head trauma, the attorneys said.

The filings say jurors who sentenced McGuire to death never got to hear the full extent of his chaotic childhood because his trial attorneys didn’t properly investigate reasons he should be spared.

Even without the full picture of McGuire’s life, a juror held out for 12 hours before relenting, a sign that a full investigation might have led to a different outcome, the lawyers said. In Ohio, one juror can block a death sentence by voting against it.

The state’s response to that claim is expected Monday.


  • Bob Sweatt

    He is on death row for a reasons. Why would I care what happens to him when they execute him??

  • Mark B

    “Mr. McGuire is at a substantial risk of experiencing the terror of air hunger during the first five minutes of the execution”
    I wonder how many minutes his victim suffered as he was raping and stabbing her ?

    • Bob Sweatt

      Exactly. It is like they want you to feel sorry for him. If they are afraid to kill him. Then give me a gun and let me just shoot him in the head. Then he wont suffer at all.

      • ExVaultDweller

        He has to suffer before he dies, a quick bullet is too merciful.

        • Bob Sweatt

          First, interesting name.

          Second I am just saying if they don’t want to kill him. Then I will be more then happy to do it for them.

          • ExVaultDweller

            Ah, okay, then please, if you get a chance take some pliers and pull out all of his finger nails for me before letting him have it. LoL! Also, as for the name, I use to be an avid FALLOUT© player.

  • turd

    I think thats an added feature. Why is this a bad thing? You think he was that humane while raping and stabbing?

  • Don Grantzki

    Can the “expert” demonstrate that his death will be more painful and frightening than that of his victim? If not, then I approve of this method of dispatching this murderer.

  • BITTERCLINGER36

    Good.

  • Mary Jane Papp

    he wasen’t too concerned about his victim, she suffered too…let him suffer some like she did. I don’t feel sorry for him one bit.

  • ExVaultDweller

    Just suffocate him to death with a pillow? Oh, he must have been humane when he killed that 22 year old pregnant girl!

  • Jeff Lewis

    i have a good idea.lets rape him and stab him to death the same way he did to his victim.atleast he wont have to worry about “air hunger”…just saying

  • Rick Glime

    I hope he experiences a great deal of terror! I hope he suffers miserably while experiencing the terror! I hope the lethal injection misses and burns like fire the whole time, I hope the person starting the I.V. taps the tip of the needle on the table a couple times before they insert it into his vein…How does one get that job anyhow?

  • AFITgrad86

    This is not about whether this inmate will suffer or not during execution so much as it is about an attempt to delay the inevitable.

  • beety

    His victim and her child didn’t get to choose or argue their degree of suffering! Guess he is afraid of really facing his crime.. His lawyer can’t possibly care beyond the thought of squeezing one more dollar out of him!

  • WTFnext

    The taxpayers have already been supporting him since 1989. Get it done and over with already.

  • ken

    use him for parts. organ donor

  • wahoo99

    Please put him on a CPAP machine and then give his medication. Currently watching my father struggle for each and every breath!

  • Jeff

    seems as if they all have an excuse when the time comes

  • Pat Meyer

    This infuriates me! Whether I agree with the death penalty or not, this is disgusting. I have moderate to severe COPD and have experienced “air hunger” and it is definitely terrifying. But this man wants a painless and easy death? Well, so do a lot of people who didn’t rape and murder anyone. As far as his “chaotic” childhood, this argument is insulting to the many, many people who also had a difficult childhood and who also didn’t grow up to rape and murder. I believe in justice for all, but for the courts to even consider these last minute pleas for leniency is a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.

  • Darla Wise

    I feel we live in a sad world when we care more for the murders then the victims. why should i care ?He stabbed and rapped his victims . i feel the loved ones should get to watch him suffer , an eye for an eye . why do we waste our tax dollars even worrying about this scumbag.

  • ken m

    well you could hang him,of course he may have a fear of ropes, you could shoot him,but he may not like loud noise,or he has a fear of guns and bullets, you can use injections,then again he also may not like needles…of course you could beat him to death ,but I m sure he doesn t like to be hit…..whhhemmmmm..seems like they always have a reason to protect these scum bags..

  • taxpayer89

    Let the victim’s family members take care of this piece of garbage.

  • ekwaykway

    I’m sure his victim experienced terror before death. Why can’t he ?

  • DonMega

    Who cares about this guy just kill him and get it over with.

  • How bob

    Tell me , Why is it , ALL the facts and evidence Never come out in court , Bs , of the Highest ! It is a Known fact , that Abuse , growing up , leads to a person venting on another , due to Such . Come on people, wake your Naive-Idiot-n-Lazy Blood-Lust selves up , to the Reality that your ways and means society of Devilment has developed ! This ,and other such cases Proves the Dysfunctional Nonsense , you all are responsible for ………………….!

  • jz

    How is it that the State, I repeat the State, can be at a shortage of “other lethal injection drugs”? Hydromorphone, phenylbarbituates, whatever. They knocked me out with profonol before, well you know, and a gun to my head would have been unnoticed. Out like a light. How about a small dose of heroin before the deed? Let him enjoy a half hour buzz with some Pink Floyd playing. Whatever. Really? The state can,t drum up some drugs to kill someone with relatively little pain? How about a choice? Yeah. I,ll take a “speedball”. Let me watch a John Belushi movie while I,m high. Then, a “hot shot” of heroin. Whatever. Sarcasm aside. The State can,t get the necessary drugs. As John Stossel would say. Gimme a break.