By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A federal judge has added five months to a moratorium on executions in Ohio amid scrutiny of a double-drug cocktail the state wants to use.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost, in a one-page ruling issued on Friday, said more time is required “in light of the continuing need for discovery and necessary preparations related to the adoption and implementation of the new execution protocol.”
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who since 2011 has commuted death sentences for four men on death row, had no comment about the judge's decision, a spokesman for his office said.
Frost initially ordered a halt to executions in May, barring state officials from carrying out executions until Aug. 15. That decision came after a botched execution in Oklahoma brought renewed scrutiny to lethal injection, and after a lengthy Ohio execution in January that used an untested combination of drugs. Ohio now plans to use those same two drugs in increased dosages.
The decision on Friday also followed the July 23 execution in Arizona of inmate Joseph Wood, who witnesses said "gasped and snorted" for more than 90 minutes as he was put to death at a state prison complex.
Lethal injection drugs have been the subject of mounting controversy and court challenges as many states have started using drugs supplied by lightly regulated compounding pharmacies because traditional suppliers have backed away from that market.
The American Civil Liberties Union this month called for a national suspension of executions because of what it has called a string of "botched" executions recently.
The moratorium issued by Frost on Friday is set to remain in effect until January 15, 2015. Frost's actions come after the state said in April it would increase the dose of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone used in its lethal injections.
The last execution in the state took place in January when inmate Dennis McGuire, 53, became the first in the country to be put to death using the midazolam and hydromorphone combination. His execution took 25 minutes and witnesses said McGuire was gasping for breath for at least 15 minutes. McGuire was convicted of the rape and murder of a pregnant woman.
After reviewing the execution, state officials said they would increase the dosage of the drugs used in future executions.
Before issuing the extended moratorium, Ohio was set to resume executions on Sept. 18 with the lethal injection of Ronald Phillip, convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in 1993.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Ohio. Editing by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Gunna Dickson)