What it Was Like to Watch Dennis McGuire Die

January 23, 2014 at 2:14 PM 1 comment

You probably heard about the execution of Dennis McGuire last week in Ohio.  The state couldn’t obtain the drugs it used for executions in the past so it used a new, untested, concoction to kill McGuire.  Witnesses said it took 26 minutes for him to die.

Execution Chamber at Sa Quenton via Wikipedia

(The “execution chamber” at San Quentin prison in California via Wikipedia)

Here is an account of what happened, as told by Lawrence Hummer, a Catholic priest who first met McGuire in November of last year:


At 10.27am, the syringe containing the untested concoction of midazolam and hydromorphone was injected into him. At 10.30am, three minutes into the execution, he lifted his head off the gurney, and said to the family who he could see through the window: “I love you, I love you.” Then he lay back down.

At about 10.31am, his stomach swelled up in an unusual way, as though he had a hernia or something like that. Between 10.33am and 10.44am – I could see a clock on the wall of the death house – he struggled and gasped audibly for air.

I was aghast. Over those 11 minutes or more he was fighting for breath, and I could see both of his fists were clenched the entire time. His gasps could be heard through the glass wall that separated us. Towards the end, the gasping faded into small puffs of his mouth. It was much like a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air that would allow it to breathe. Time dragged on and I was helpless to do anything, sitting helplessly by as he struggled for breath. I desperately wanted out of that room.


Putting my opposition to the death penalty to one side, there remains what I saw with my own eyes last Thursday. I don’t know how any objective observer could come up with any conclusion other than that was an evil act.


Execution is such a tidy word.  How about state-sponsored murder?  If a nation professes to be against murder, it shouldn’t murder.  Period.


Entry filed under: Musings.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Tim Truett  |  January 23, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Wish I had something intelligent to add. Trying to teach a generation to venerate life by execution of criminals seems a tricky proposition at best.

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