For the first time in more than three years, the state of Ohio has executed a death row inmate.
State officials executed Ronald Phillips by lethal injection this morning officially at 10:43 a.m. at a state prison in Lucasville, about 80 miles south of Columbus.
The execution ended a lull following an unusually drawn-out execution that relied on a controversial lethal-injection drug.
Phillips’ brother arrived late and the warden allowed the execution to be delayed so they could have some time together.
The Ohio Parole Board twice voted against recommending clemency for Phillips, 43, who has been on Death Row since September 1993 — nearly 24 years. He was convicted of the rape and murder of 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans in 1993. Doctors who tried to save the little girl documented more than 125 bruises on her, indicating she had been severely beaten in the head, torso, arms, legs and genitalia within a few hours of death, and they found evidence that she was sodomized.
Phillips had been granted earlier reprieves to allow legal arguments over Ohio’s lethal injection process.
The execution came more than three-and-a-half years after Ohio prison officials used a previously untested lethal injection combination to put Dennis McGuire to death on Jan. 16, 2014. Witnesses said McGuire struggled, choked and gasped during the 26 minute execution.
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The ordeal put Ohio into the national spotlight and triggered a series of legal challenges to the constitutionality of the use of the drug combo. A federal appeals court ruling in June permitted Ohio to use midazolam, which was used in the McGuire execution and others.
Ohio ditched the combo used on McGuire and replaced it with a three-drug protocol, starting with midazolam.
Opponents of the death penalty made an all-out push to stop Phillips’ execution, holding press conferences and vigils, sending 27,000 signatures on a petition to Gov. John Kasich and filing legal briefs in support of Phillips’ request for a stay.
Ohio adopted its current death penalty statute in 1981. Since executions resumed in 1999, Ohio has put 53/54 men to death.
Ohio, which has executed 53/54 condemned inmates since resuming capital punishment in 1999, has 26 more executions scheduled through 2020.
In 2014, a 22-member task force convened by the Ohio Supreme Court called for a sweeping overhaul in how the death penalty is applied in Ohio. The group, made up of judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, academics and others, made 56 recommendations, including eliminating some crimes from being eligible for a capital sentence, requiring strong evidence such as DNA or videotaped confessions in capital cases, and banning the execution of prisoners who suffered from serious mental illness at the time of the crime or at the time of the execution.
In the three years since the report, very few of the recommendations have been implemented.
Six in 10 Americans still support the death penalty for convicted murderers, down from 80 percent support in 1994, according to Gallup Poll. Opposition to capital punishment has climbed to 37 percent, up from 16 percent in 1994, the poll found. The number of executions nationwide has tapered off since peaking at 98 in 1999 to 20 in 2016, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Capital punishment laws are in place in 31 states.
Here’s Phillips’ final statement before his execution:
To the Evans family, I’m sorry you had to live so long with my evil actions. All those years I prayed you’d forgive me and find it in your heart to forgive me and have mercy on me.
Sheila Marie did not deserve what I did to her. I know she is with the Lord and she suffers no more. I’m sorry to each and every one of you that you lived with this pain all those years.
To my family, thank you for your support and faithfulness. Glory be to the lamb.
Amen. I love you all and God bless you. Thank you.