LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Ohio put a child killer to death Wednesday, carrying out the state’s first execution after a 3½-year delay and signaling the possible resumption of capital punishment in the state.
Ronald Phillips was executed by lethal injection without any of the complications that marred the state’s last execution and caused Ohio’s governor to put a pause on scheduled executions.
Phillips was sentenced to die for the 1993 rape and killing of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter.
His chin and chest moved slightly and he breathed heavily while the lethal drugs were administered. Prison officials gave Phillips’ time of death as 10:43 a.m., about 10 minutes after he gave his final statement, saying, “Sheila Marie didn’t deserve what I did to her.”
He apologized to the girl’s family, telling them: “I’m sorry you had to live so long with my actions.”
The girl’s half sister said it was the first apology they had heard from Phillips.
Sheila Marie’s aunt, Donna Hudson, said: “Finally, after 24½ years, she can rest in peace.”
Phillips, 43, seemed resigned at the end, looking up the ceiling and closing his eyes at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
The execution was delayed for a few minutes so that Phillips could meet with his brother. Earlier, he had spent much of the morning praying, kneeling and reading the Bible. He became emotional with his spiritual adviser and a visiting friend, said JoEllen Smith, a prisons department spokeswoman.
Phillips lost his final appeal when the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied his requests for more time to pursue legal arguments, including a challenge of the state’s new three-drug execution method, which includes a sedative used in some problematic executions in Ohio and elsewhere.
He also argued that his age at the time — he was 19 — should have been a consideration for mercy. The nation’s high court has banned the execution of people under 18.
The death penalty had been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when a condemned inmate repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure with a never-before-tried drug combination.
Republican Gov. John Kasich halted upcoming executions after that, and delays have continued because the state had trouble finding new supplies of drugs and death row inmates sued on the grounds the state’s proposed new three-drug execution method represented “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The state announced in October it acquired a new supply. Phillips and other death row inmates unsuccessfully fought the state’s new execution method that includes a sedative, midazolam, used in some troubled executions in Ohio, Arkansas and Arizona. The other drugs are rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes inmates, and potassium chloride, which stop their hearts.
The inmates’ arguments were backed up by 15 pharmacology professors, who said midazolam is incapable of inducing unconsciousness or preventing serious pain.
Phillips’ execution was previously scheduled and delayed several times, including in 2013 when Kasich allowed time for a last-minute request by Phillips to donate organs. The request was ultimately denied. Phillips wanted to donate a kidney to his mother, who was on dialysis, and possibly his heart to his sister. His mother has since died.
Phillips killed Sheila Marie on Jan. 18, 1993. She died following emergency surgery after she was rushed to an Akron hospital when her mother found her motionless on her bed, according to a 2016 parole board document.
An autopsy the following day revealed more than 125 bruises on the girl indicating she’d been severely beaten on the head, face, lower torso, arms, legs and genitalia.
Phillips told police he repeatedly hit the girl after she didn’t respond to his calls for breakfast, the parole board document said. Phillips also admitted raping her that day and two previous times, the document said.
Late last year, the Ohio Parole Board voted 10-2 against recommending mercy, turning down arguments that Phillips was the product of a horrific upbringing and that his trial was marked by legal mistakes.
“Phillips’ crime involved the killing of a vulnerable 3-year-old victim, an abuse of trust, and extensive victimization, therefore making it among the worst of the worst capital crimes,” the board said.
Phillips’ attorneys said in a statement Wednesday that he became a different person in prison and that no one is beyond redemption.
“He had grown to be a good man, who was thoughtful, caring, compassionate, remorseful and reflective,” said attorneys Tim Sweeney and Lisa Lagos. “He tried every day to atone for his shameful role in Sheila’s death.”
The execution was the 15th in the U.S. this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.