A federal judge issued a stay Monday in the planned January execution of an Ohio death row inmate and for the next two inmates scheduled to die in 2017, a move that could delay the state's plan to carry out the death penalty for the first time in three years.
The order comes amid a challenge of a state law that shields details about the lethal injection drugs the state plans to use.
U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael Merz in Dayton said the stay could be lifted if a federal appeals court hands down a ruling in the related challenge of the shield law before the scheduled execution of Ronald Phillips on Jan. 12.
Merz said it would only be minor inconvenience for the state to set new execution dates.
Phillips is scheduled to be executed for the rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evan, in Akron in 1993.
His execution already has been delayed several times, including in 2013 when he made a last-minute request that was later denied to donate a kidney to his mother, who was on dialysis.
Phillips asked for a delay in November so he can have more time to challenge to the state's new three-drug method for carrying out death sentences. He and other inmates want to block the new procedure, arguing that it will result in a painful and barbaric death.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the office's attorneys are reviewing whether to appeal the order issuing the stay.
The state in October announced plans to use a new three-drug combination for at least three executions.
Ohio hasn't executed any prisoner since January 2014 when death row inmate Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure using a never-before-tried two-drug combo.
Executions then went on hold as the state had trouble finding new supplies of drugs, which were made off limits for executions by drugmakers.