January 16, 2014
Lucasville, Ohio
Dennis McGuire (pictured) is executed for murder, though his execution is botched

Joy Stewart was last seen alive on February 11, 1989 as she accepted a ride from McGuire. At the time, she was 8 months pregnant with her son Carl. Stewart’s body was found the following day in a creek. Her autopsy later revealed she had been stabbed twice, her throat had been slit, and she was raped. Joy and Carl were buried together.

Stewart’s case remained unsolved for three years until McGuire was jailed for an unrelated crime involving the kidnapping and assault of a 15-year-old. In an attempt to reduce his sentence, McGuire claimed his brother-in-law Jerry Richardson killed Stewart. To prove his claim, McGuire included a detailed description of the murder including facts not known to the public.

Semen left at the scene was tested which eliminated Richardson as a suspect, and linked McGuire to the rape. McGuire was offered a plea deal to avoid a possible death sentence but declined. He was convicted of Stewart’s murder and sentenced to death. McGuire admitted to Stewart’s murder the month before his scheduled execution during a bid for clemency. The bid was denied.

Ohio had a shortage of a sedative used in lethal injections, pentobarbital, due to legal issues. The drug’s owner, Danish company Lundbeck, discovered the sedative was being used in the United States for capital punishment. In Danish law the drug cannot be administered during executions and Lundbeck discontinued selling pentobarbital in the wake of public outcry. Instead, the prison used an experimental combination of midazolam (a sedative) and hydromorphone (an opioid for pain management). The untested combination led to a prolonged and slow death for McGuire.

McGuire’s spiritual adviser was a witness to his execution and described how “his stomach swelled up in an unusual way, as though he had a hernia or something like that” approximately four minutes after the injection. The spiritual adviser went on to recount, “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.”

Alan Johnson, reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, reported McGuire “gasped deeply. It was kind of a rattling, guttural sound. There was kind of a snorting through his nose. A couple of times, he definitely appeared to be choking.”

McGuire died 26 minutes after the procedure began.

“Ohio Says Controversial Execution of Dennis McGuire Was ‘Humane’.” NBC News. April 28, 2014. Accessed: January 16, 2020. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/amp/ncna91811
Hummer, Lawrence. “I witnessed Ohio’s execution of Dennis McGuire. What I saw was inhumane.” The Guardian. January 22, 2014. Accessed: January 16, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/22/ohio-mcguire-execution-untested-lethal-injection-inhumane (image source)
Ford, Dana and Fantz, Ashley. “Controversial execution in Ohio uses new drug combination.” CNN. Updated: January 17, 2014. Accessed: January 16, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2014/01/16/justice/ohio-dennis-mcguire-execution/index.html
Sweigart, Josh. “Killer who tried to beat system set to die.” Dayton Daily News. January 16, 2014. Accessed: January 16, 2020. https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/crime–law/killer-who-tried-beat-system-set-die/aerZQ8b4hCcQBNPiA2yCDO/

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