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LUCASVILLE, Ohio - A condemned killer appeared to gasp several times during his prolonged execution with the first use of a lethal injection process never before tried in the U.S.

Dennis McGuire made several loud snorting or snoring sounds Thursday during the more than 15 minutes it appeared to take him to die. His stomach rose and fell several times as he repeatedly opened and shut his mouth.

McGuire's adult children sobbed nearby in a witness room as they watched him die.

"I'm going to heaven, I'll see you there when you come," McGuire said. He opened and shut his left hand several times before the drugs took effect, appearing to wave to his children.

It was one of the longest executions since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999.

McGuire's lawyers had argued that he was at substantial risk of a medical phenomenon known as air hunger, which would cause him to experience terror as he strains to catch his breath.

McGuire, 53, was sentenced to die for the 1989 rape and fatal stabbing of a young pregnant woman. He acknowledged that he was responsible in a letter to Gov. John Kasich last month.

Ohio's never-tried lethal injection method was adopted after the maker of the state's previous drug put it off limits for capital punishment.

Some states that still carry out executions have struggled to find drug supplies for lethal injections after companies refused to supply the drugs for that purpose.

Capital punishment continues to be a much-debated subject in the United States. In all, 39 executions were carried out last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Prison officials said McGuire was awake all night talking on the phone and writing letters. He also had emotional final visits with family members, including his son and daughter.

Ohio officials used intravenous doses of two drugs, the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone, to put McGuire to death.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a last-minute request to delay his execution after his legal team argued that a jury never got to hear the full extent of his chaotic and abusive childhood.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show McGuire unsuccessfully sought a reprieve in recent weeks to try to become an organ donor. In November, the governor granted a death row inmate an eight-month reprieve to let the prison system study his request to donate a kidney to his sister and his heart to his mother.

But the governor said McGuire couldn't identify a family member who would receive his organs, as required under prison policy.

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