Condemned Ohio child killer to testify at hearing

November 1, 2013
In this undated photo released by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows Ronald Phillips. Phillips, a death row inmate who raped and killed his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter, wants his upcoming execution delayed while he fights the state's newly announced — and never tried — lethal injection process. (AP Photo/Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A death row inmate sentenced to die for raping and killing a 3-year-old girl is expected to testify at a hearing in federal court Friday as his lawyers challenge the state's new, never-tried lethal injection system.

Attorneys for condemned killer Ronald Phillips want a federal judge to delay Phillips' Nov. 14 execution while they gather evidence as part of their lawsuit against the two-drug process.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced a new execution policy last month and said Monday that it would use that system's second option: a combination of a sedative and painkiller never tried before in a U.S. execution.

Phillips' attorneys say the department's announcements came too close to the execution date to allow a meaningful challenge. The state says nothing is substantially different about the new system.

Judge Gregory Frost originally granted Phillips permission to testify in person, then switched to the video testimony when it was clear courtroom technology could handle the unusual arrangement. There are no recent examples of Ohio death row inmates testifying in person or by video in federal court cases.

Phillips' attorneys planned to challenge the state's first choice for a new execution drug: a specialty dose of pentobarbital mixed by a compounding pharmacy.

The hearing Friday will focus on the new, two-drug method, but those arguments likely won't go away. Ohio gives itself the option before each execution to say whether it has obtained those compounded doses. If not, it moves to the second, two-drug option.

Attorneys for Phillips are also fighting the state's decision to allow the prisons director or death house warden to delegate responsibility for changes in the execution process. That could include any deviation from the policy, down to paperwork documenting a particular step. The attorneys say that violates previous agreements approved by Frost.

The two drugs Ohio is proposing to use on Phillips will cause him to stop breathing within a few minutes, an anesthesiologist said in a statement Thursday as part of a filing by the state in support of the new method.

Irreversible brain and heart damage will follow and the inmate will die a few minutes later, according to University of Massachusetts doctor Mark Dershwitz.

The drugs are midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller.


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