|EXECUTION SCHEDULED FOR TOMORROW
Kenneth Biros’s lawyers want his execution delayed, saying the method has never been used in “any other civilized country.’’
Ohio killer could be 1st in US to die in one-drug execution
Untested method takes longer than 3-drug approach
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Condemned killer Kenneth Biros could become the first person in the country put to death with a single dose of an intravenous anesthetic instead of the usual - and faster-acting - three-drug process if his execution proceeds tomorrow.
The execution could propel other states to consider the switch, which proponents say ends arguments over unnecessary suffering during injection.
California and Tennessee previously considered then rejected the one-drug approach.
Though the untested method has never been used on an inmate in the United States, one difference is clear: Biros will probably die more slowly than inmates put to death with the three-drug method, which includes a drug that stops the heart.
Lethal injection specialists on both sides of the debate say thiopental sodium, which kills by putting people so deeply asleep they stop breathing, will take longer.
How much longer is unclear: Mark Dershwitz, an anesthesiologist who advised Ohio on its switch to the single drug, has written that death should occur in under 15 minutes.
Ohio inmates have typically taken about seven minutes to die after the three-drug IV injection, which combines thiopental sodium with the drugs pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes muscles, and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest.
Dershwitz also said in a court filing last week that a single dose of thiopental sodium would take longer than the three drugs, though he didn’t specify a time.
The switch from three drugs to one was ordered last month because of the state’s botched attempt on Sept. 15 to execute convicted rapist and killer Romell Broom. His executioners tried unsuccessfully for two hours to find a usable vein for injection, painfully hitting bone and muscle in as many as 18 needle sticks. Governor Ted Strickland halted the execution.
Broom, 53, has appealed the state’s attempt to try again.
Ohio officials contend the single-drug method should end a five-year-old lawsuit against the state that claims injection can cause inmates severe suffering. Lethal injection specialists and defense lawyers for death row inmates have said the one-drug method, a single dose of an anesthetic, would not cause pain.
Biros, 51, killed 22-year-old Tami Engstrom near Warren in 1991 after offering to drive her home from a bar, then scattered her body parts in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
All 36 death penalty states use lethal injection, and 35 rely on the three-drug method. Nebraska, which recently adopted injection over electrocution, has proposed the three-drug method but hasn’t finalized the process.
States with active death chambers are keeping an eye on Ohio’s switch but have no immediate plans to switch. Florida, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia are among those keeping the three-drug system for now.
States will probably watch Ohio’s experience and the court challenges before making a decision, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. The US Supreme Court said last year that states would have to change the three-drug process only if an alternative method lessened the possibility of pain. Defense lawyers have also supported the one-drug option, reducing the possibility of legal challenges, Dieter said. If Ohio is successful “in making this transition, and if a few other states follow that lead, I think we will see the majority of states changing to this method of lethal injection,’’ Dieter said.
Biros’s lawyers want his execution delayed, saying the untested method has never been used in “any other civilized country’’ and would amount to human experimentation. But the same lawyers earlier advocated for the state to switch to the one-drug method. The state “could and should shift to a one-drug protocol designed to cause death by means of an overdose of an anesthetic,’’ John Parker, one of Biros’s lawyers, said in a court filing last year.
Doctors conducting euthanasia in Europe administer thiopental sodium but also usually add pancuronium bromide.
Ohio has executed 32 men by injection since 1999, three of them with complications.
In 2006, executioners needed more than an hour to put inmate Joseph Clark to death after the drugs initially failed to work because of problems with his veins.