COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio lawmaker has an innovative solution to the state’s problem with securing execution drugs: use fentanyl seized by police instead.
Republican state Rep. Scott Wiggam is working on legislation to allow Ohio prison officials to obtain fentanyl from drug busts. That option is far more humane than the electric chair or firing squad – options that states are considering as pharmaceutical companies cut off access to execution drugs.
“This is a much less violent way than the electric chair and the latest lethal injection (Dennis McGuire’s 2014 death) that took 26 minutes,” Wiggam told The Enquirer. “This is a much more humane way.”
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid involved in 3,431 overdose deaths in 2017, according to Ohio Department of Health records. Ohio Highway Patrol seized more than 108 pounds of fentanyl in 2018, according to state records.
Wiggam sent out an email requesting support for the proposal from fellow lawmakers, the Columbus Dispatch first reported.
Gov. Mike DeWine has stalled the state’s executions while Ohio’s prison system seeks an alternative way to execute death row inmates. A federal magistrate compared the effects of one of the drugs used, midazolam, to waterboarding.
Abraham Bonowitz, of the national advocacy group Death Penalty Action, said the Legislature should stop focusing on the execution method and address problems with Ohio’s death penalty.
Bonowitz said lawmakers have largely ignored a 2014 report from an Ohio Supreme Court task force that made 56 recommendations, including requiring a videotaped, voluntary confession from a defendant and that evidence in capital punishment cases be handled by an accredited lab.
Bonowitz said dangerous offenders can be held accountable without being put to death.
“Where this country is going is away from executions, not how we do it,” Bonowitz said.
The state’s last execution was Robert Van Hook on July 18, 2018. Van Hook was convicted of killing and disemboweling neighbor David Self in February 1985.
Ohio has scheduled 22 executions through 2022. The next is set for Nov. 13. Cleveland Jackson was convicted of killing 17-year-old Leneshia Williams and 3-year-old Jayla Grant in Lima in 2002.
Wiggam said he wanted to focus the discussion about Ohio’s death penalty around ways to carry out executions currently required by state law rather than abandoning the process because it was too difficult to find drugs.
“This is certainly a workaround,” he said. “This is something that we know can bring deaths quickly to individuals.”
State Senate President Larry Obhof has said he’s happy to explore other options.
“We are all concerned that if you’re going to have capital punishment, you should have a process in place that courts are willing to accept and meets constitutional muster,” he told The Enquirer earlier this year.
No other state has proposed using seized fentanyl to Wiggam’s knowledge.
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