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Judge Halts Ohio Executions, Citing Drug Controversy

A federal judge has put Ohio's next two scheduled executions on hold, saying he needs more information about the state's proposed changes to its lethal injection process.

A scarcity of the drugs that were once commonly used to carry out U.S. executions has complicated the lethal injection process — and has prompted several death row inmates to challenge whether Ohio and other states are violating the Constitution's protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

From Ohio Public Radio, Karen Kasler reports for our Newscast unit:

"U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost's order for a 2 1/2-month moratorium comes after the troubled execution of Dennis McGuire in January. McGuire was the first person ever to be put to death with a combination of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone.

"McGuire's execution was the longest on record in Ohio, and witnesses said McGuire appeared to gasp and choke several times. The state has said McGuire's execution was performed humanely, but officials want to increase the dosage of both drugs.

"Frost wants to hear arguments on that, and his order halts executions until after August 15, which temporarily delays two executions scheduled for July and August."

Last month, Ohio said it would increase the dosage of the drugs it uses in its executions.

Another state seeking to adjust its policies is Tennessee, where the governor recently approved the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs aren't available.

Frost's order "stops the scheduled July 2 execution of Ronald Phillips of Summit County and the Aug. 6 execution of William Montgomery of Lucas County," The Columbus Dispatch reports. "Two other executions scheduled later in the year are not affected for the time being, but Frost left his order open-ended."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.