I Witnessed Ohio's Execution of Jimmy McGuire — What I Saw Was Horrible
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At 10.27am, the syringe containing the untested concoction of midazolam and hydromorphone was injected into him. At 10.30am, three minutes into the execution, he lifted his head off the gurney, and said to the family who he could see through the window: "I love you, I love you." Then he lay back down.
At about 10.31am, his stomach swelled up in an unusual way, as though he had a hernia or something like that. Between 10.33am and 10.44am – I could see a clock on the wall of the death house – he struggled and gasped audibly for air.
I was aghast. Over those 11 minutes or more he was fighting for breath, and I could see both of his fists were clenched the entire time. His gasps could be heard through the glass wall that separated us. Towards the end, the gasping faded into small puffs of his mouth. It was much like a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air that would allow it to breathe. Time dragged on and I was helpless to do anything, sitting helplessly by as he struggled for breath. I desperately wanted out of that room.
For the next four minutes or so a medical tech listened for a heart beat on both sides of his chest. That seemed to drag on too, like some final cruel ritual, preventing us from leaving. Then, at 10.53am, the warden called the time of death, they closed the curtains, and that was it.
I came out of that room feeling that I had witnessed something ghastly. I was relieved to be out in the fresh air. There is no question in my mind that Dennis McGuire suffered greatly over many minutes. I'd been told that a "normal" execution lasted five minutes – this experimental two-drug concoction had taken 26 minutes. I consider that inhumane.
His family had been exposed to something horrendous. They cried and sobbed, held each other, held onto my hand, and at times turned away to hug each other so they didn't have to watch. And then there's the family of Joy Stewart, who I think were sitting next to us on the other side of a wall. I pray for them because I know they too have been through hell and back. My heart goes out to them, but I don't see how his death will bring them peace. All it means is that they witnessed somebody else die.
I have opposed the death penalty since I studied philosophy in college 40 years ago. My objection is based on a simple principle: all human beings are created with the ability to change, from what is not yet to what is, and that's as true in the womb as it is heading for the tomb. There can always be repentance.
To interrupt that process is to deny people the chance to repent of what they have done. Capital punishment is simply a way of society avoiding the possibility of changing lives. I'm not advocating the release of any of Ohio's death row inmates into society – they have all committed heinous acts, and society must be protected from them. But by incarcerating them, they pose no more threat. Everybody wants to play God instead of believing in him. That applies to the murderer as much as to all of us. In my opinion, the death penalty is nothing more than an exercise in vengeance that rightly should be reserved to the lord.
Putting my opposition to the death penalty to one side, there remains what I saw with my own eyes last Thursday. I don't know how any objective observer could come up with any conclusion other than that was an evil act.