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I Witnessed Ohio's Execution of Jimmy McGuire — What I Saw Was Horrible

That injection was an evil way to go.

Photo Credit: carlosgardel/


The last time I celebrated mass with Dennis McGuire, who was  executed by the state of Ohio last week using an experimental two-drug concoction, it was the feast of the epiphany that marks the bringing of gifts to the newborn Jesus by the magi.

McGuire was one of just over a dozen Catholics among  Ohio's 147 death row inmates who come to mass weekly in Chillicothe Correctional Institution. As part of the sacrament of anointing, I asked the others to pass by and lay hands on McGuire as a way of giving our brother back to the Lord as a symbolic gift. When I turned round to face them with the oils, I found the other 12 standing around him, surrounding him as though they were offering him back to the Lord. Tears were streaming down McGuire's face. That was the first time I'd ever seen him show physical signs of emotion.

I first began to visit Mcguire in November. He told me about the evil act he had committed, the murder in 1989 of a young woman Joy Stewart who was pregnant and whose unborn child also died. He confessed his sin to me, and expressed sorrow for what he had done. I said he should pray for forgiveness from the woman he had killed, and from that unborn child, and over the course of the final eight weeks, I know that he did.

After that, I had to deal with him as I do anyone else who repents: as a forgiven sinner. It can be very difficult for people not in the religion to accept that with regard to a murderer, but the faith is clear: once forgiven, you are forgiven, no matter how heinous the sin.

On the  day of his execution, last Thursday, I gave him his last sacraments at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, which lodges the "death house". Shortly before the execution was due to start, his son, daughter and daughter-in-law, who were with him at the time, asked me to come with them as witness. McGuire also said he wanted me there as his spiritual adviser.

I felt nauseous before I entered the room, as I had never seen an execution before. As the execution got underway, the nausea passed and was replaced by an intense feeling that I wanted to get out of that room, away from the horrendous act that was playing out before me.

I've seen people die many times before: in nursing homes, families I've known, my own mother. In most settings I've found death to be a very peaceful experience. But this was something else. By my count it  took 26 minutes for McGuire to be pronounced dead.

We sat down in the death house – McGuire's children and daughter-in-law in the front row and me in the row behind them. At about 10.15am he was brought in and strapped to the gurney. With his arms spread and, not to put too fine a point on it, I whispered to his daughter that he looked as though he were on the cross.

He made his final statement. He said thank you to Joy Stewart's family who had offered him some words of comfort in a letter they had written to him, and he told his children that he loved them and would see them in heaven. They began to put lines into him. That was unsettling, as from what I could observe they seemed to find it hard to get insert the IV and there seemed to be blood coming from his right arm.