Columbus -- Prison officials plan to move forward with the scheduled execution of Summit County man convicted in the rape and murder of a toddler more than 20 years ago, using a new three-drug combination similar to the method the state relied on for lethal injections for a decade.
Ronald Phillips, whose execution has been postponed several times while the state worked to locate supplies of the drugs used by the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections current lethal injection protocol, is to be put to death on Jan. 12.
More than two dozen other Death Row inmates have executions scheduled through 2020.
State prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said in a released statement that Phillips' execution would be carried out using midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride under an updated protocol being announced this week.
"In keeping with its obligation under Ohio law to carry out death sentences handed down and upheld by the courts, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction informed U.S. District Court Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. that the department is updating its execution protocol to include a combination of three drugs (midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride)," Smith said. "The department used a similar combination from 1999 to 2009, and last year, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the use of this specific three-drug combination."
She added, "After filing the updated policy with Judge Sargus, DRC will proceed with the scheduled execution of Ronald Phillips in January 2017."
A group of execution opponents questioned the decision Oct. 3.
Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, said in a released statement, "This is yet another experiment with at least one untried drug. Ohio's track record is not one that exudes confidence. But really, the state should not resume executions without first addressing the Supreme Court Task Force recommendations to ensure the system is both fair and accurate."
Mike Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU of Ohio, added in a statement, "Attempts to use new drug combinations or those that have failed in past lethal injections amount to little more than human experimentation. Even worse, because of a secrecy law enacted by our legislature, Ohioans cannot have confidence that execution drugs were obtained through legal or ethical means, nor that they have been tested for efficacy or regulated in any way.
"These questions will certainly be addressed by courts, but the state's insistence to continue with executions runs counter to public support of the death penalty, which is at its lowest point in 40 years," Brickner continued. "Given all of Ohio's problems with the death penalty and the tremendous risk we run of another botched execution, it is well past time for officials to scrap this broken system altogether."
Executions in Ohio have been on hold since the lethal injection of Dennis McGuire in January 2014. McGuire, who received a capital sentence for the rape and murder of a pregnant Preble County woman, gasped for breath during what witnesses described as a prolonged procedure under the state's two-drug execution method that included midazolam.
In early 2015, state prison officials abandoned that combination, switching to two different drugs, though that protocol has not been used.
The state and others have struggled to find supplies of execution drugs, after manufacturers blocked their use for lethal injections. State law changes enabled the purchase of drugs from compounding pharmacies, under legislation that allowed the names of those businesses to be kept secret, but prison officials have not identified or obtained supplies in that way.
The governor has issued temporary reprieves in Ohio executions over the past two years as prison officials worked through the execution drug issue. DRC is expected to issue an updated exe-ution protocol under the three-drug combination announced Monday in coming days.
Jason Getsy, convicted in a murder-for-hire in Trumbull County in 2005, was the last Ohio inmate executed using a three-drug combination. The lethal injection, administered in August 2009, took about 10 minutes and was completed without complication.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.