COLUMBUS, Ohio - A U.S. judge ordered a 2 1/2-month moratorium Wednesday on executions in Ohio to allow time for arguments over the state's new lethal injection procedures, which have drawn intense scrutiny.
Lethal injection — the primary means of execution in all 32 states with capital punishment — is under fire as never before because of botched executions, drug shortages caused by a European-led boycott, and a flurry of lawsuits over the new chemicals that states are using instead.
While public support for the death penalty remains strong in the U.S., concerns have been renewed by the botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate and an incident in January when an Ohio inmate snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die.
The Ohio order delays executions scheduled for July and August while attorneys prepare filings about the state's decision to boost the dosages of its lethal injection drugs.
The one-page order by Columbus federal judge Gregory Frost on Tuesday affects the state's latest death penalty policy change, which was announced in late April.
Ohio uses two drugs injected simultaneously in executions. The policy change considerably increases the amount of the sedative and raises the amount of the painkiller.
The procedure update followed the Jan. 16 execution of Dennis McGuire, the inmate who took 26 minutes to die. The state said in April it was making the changes "to allay any remaining concerns" after McGuire's execution, though it stood by the way McGuire was put to death.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said its review of McGuire's execution determined he was asleep and unconscious a few minutes after the drugs were administered and his execution was conducted in a constitutional manner.
Frost's order delays the July 2 execution of Ronald Phillips, sentenced to die for the rape and death of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, in 1993.
The order also delays the Aug. 6 execution of William Montgomery, who shot two young women in 1986.
The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but around America the number of executions has declined steadily since peaking in 1999. The number of states that carry the death penalty has also been declining, with six dropping it in the last eight years.
Last week, Tennessee passed a law that could essentially bring back the electric chair. Elsewhere around the U.S., lawmakers have been talking about reviving the firing squad and the gas chamber, methods largely abandoned a generation ago.
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