It took about 10 minutes for the state of Ohio to put Kenneth Biros to death today using a single drug in a lethal injection, instead of the traditional cocktail of three drugs. He became the first human executed similar to the way animals are euthanized. Thirty-six other states use the three-drug cocktail that Ohio has abandoned. Columbus-based Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins was one of the members of the media who witnessed the execution. Welsh-Huggins, who has witnessed five executions including Biros’, has written a history of the death penalty in Ohio. I spoke with him this afternoon:
Fill our readers in on the background of this case.
ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS: This was an extraordinarily brutal crime and there had been a lot of publicity about it at the time, and there had been a lot of anger in the community that this took so long – it’s been 18 years since the crime was committed. Biros had been in the death house 30 hours in 2007 before the U.S. Supreme court spared him on a different appeal.
He raped and killed this woman and dismembered her and scattered her body parts through Ohio and Pennsylvania.
What is the argument against using the three-drug cocktail?
WELSH-HUGGINS: The argument has always been that if the patient has not been anesthetized properly, once he is paralyzed, he suffers severe pain from his heart stopping, you would never know it. There has always been that risk. That issue of the severe pain using the three-drug method, that’s debatable. What everyone agrees on is that this method is pain free.
**And other states are hoping to learn lessons from this execution?** WELSH-HUGGINS: States are definitely watching this very closely. A federal judge in California ordered the state to try this a couple of years ago but they could not find an anesthesiologist to do it, so they put it on hold. Tennessee considered it and rejected it. It’s a little early still for states to move to the one-drug system because they’re just going to watch how the legal challenges play out. A number of states — Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky — are all sticking with their three-drug system for now. But there’s no question that if these executions continue to proceed this easily, other states won’t look at it. This removes any constitutional argument over pain and suffering. All sides agree that this single dose of thiopental sodium basically just puts people into a deep sleep and they stop breathing. There’s no risk of severe pain. **What were Biros’ last words?** WELSH-HUGGINS: He apologized to the [victim’s] family, he said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart. He thanked his friends and family for supporting him, believing him and praying for him. He said he had been paroled to his heavenly father and that he was going to spend the rest of his holidays with his lord and savior Jesus Christ. And then he blessed everyone and said amen. **What was the timeline of the execution?** WELSH-HUGGINS: We’re pretty sure it was about 10 minutes. He gave his final statement about 11:36 a.m. We think the drug started flowing a minute later and time of death was 11:47, so it happened very quickly. Once the chemical started flowing, his chest heaved up and down several times over about two minutes. There was no sign of pain. **How many witnesses were there?** WELSH-HUGGINS: The witnesses included 3 members of the victim’s family: the mother, sister and brother of the young woman that he killed. It also included two men that he described as his friends and spiritual advisers, and one of his attorneys witnessed. In addition — kind of a minor historical point — the sheriff of the county where the crime was committed also witnessed. A sheriff is allowed under Ohio law to witness an execution, and this was the first time a sheriff had witnessed the execution since Ohio resumed putting people to death in 1999. There were six media representatives as well. **What was the reaction to the execution?** WELSH-HUGGINS: The three members of the victim’s family applauded when the warden pronounced the time of death. That’s pretty unusual. I’ve witnessed five executions and I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s not uncommon for victim’s family members to whisper or to sob but to have applause like that is pretty unusual.