Condemned killer arrives at death house ahead of execution

By Julie Carr Smyth - Associated Press

COLUMBUS — A condemned killer in Ohio arrived at the death house a day ahead of his scheduled execution Wednesday with several requests for a delay pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ronald Phillips arrived at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville around 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, about 24 hours before he was set to die in Ohio’s first execution in more than three years, a prisons spokeswoman said.

The last execution in Ohio was in January 2014, when a condemned inmate repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure with a never-before-tried drug combination. Gov. John Kasich put several scheduled executions on hold. The delays have continued, prompted by shortages of acceptable drugs and legal challenges by death row inmates to Ohio’s plans for a new three-drug execution method.

A federal court last month upheld the use of the sedative midazolam, which has been problematic in several executions, including Ohio’s in 2014 and others in Arkansas and Arizona. The ruling clears the way for the state to move forward with three executions, but it isn’t a decisive ruling on the constitutionality of the three-drug method.

On Monday, 15 pharmacology professors argued in Phillips’ favor that midazolam is incapable of inducing unconsciousness or preventing the unconstitutional infliction of serious pain.

Phillips, 43, was convicted for the 1993 rape and killing of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in Akron. He also has requested that the execution be halted based on his age at the time of the killing. He was 19, older than the Supreme Court’s cutoff of 18 for purposes of barring executions of juveniles, and argues the cutoff age should be 21. The latest delay request on that issue was filed Tuesday.

Attorneys for the state argued against Phillips’ request, saying he made meritless, often conflicting, legal claims.

“Phillips argues that youth, like IQ, cannot be reduced to a number. But he also argues that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of adults under age twenty-one,” they wrote in a court document filed Tuesday. “He cannot have it both ways; if age cannot make one eligible for death, it cannot make one ineligible for death.”

The state of Ohio also has told U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who handles such appeals for Ohio, that continued delays in Phillips’ case are harming the state by costing time and resources.

Phillips has had several previous delays to scheduled executions, most notably in 2013 when he made a last-minute plea to donate his organs. He said he wanted to give a kidney to his mother, who was on dialysis, and possibly his heart to his sister. His request was denied. His mother has since died.

As he awaited action from the high court, Phillips was being permitted to see family, friends and spiritual advisers and to meet with his attorneys.

For his last meal, to be served Tuesday evening, he requested a large cheese pizza with bell peppers and mushrooms, a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and strawberry cheesecake, along with grape juice and a piece of unleavened bread.

By Julie Carr Smyth

Associated Press