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Governor Mike DeWine pauses executions in Ohio

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has halted executions in the state until a new protocol can be identified that passes muster with the courts. "As long as the status quo remains, where we don't have a protocol that has been found to be OK, we certainly cannot have any executions in Ohio," DeWine told reporters at an Associated Press forum in Columbus, according to Cleveland.com

He did not clarify whether he currently supports the death penalty, though Cleveland.com noted that when he was asked about whether he personally supports it, DeWine acknowledged he had been a sponsor of the 1981 bill to legalize capital punishment in Ohio. 

"We are seeing clearly some challenges that you have all reported on in regard to carrying out the death penalty. But I'm not going to go further down that path any more today," he said

In January, DeWine announced that he'd delay the execution of Warren Keith Henness, scheduled for Feb. 13, after a federal judge ruled that Ohio's current execution protocol could cause the inmate "severe pain and needless suffering." DeWine also ordered the prison system to look at alternative lethal injection drugs. It was DeWine's first announcement as governor regarding a death penalty case.

Henness was convicted of killing 51-year-old Richard Myers in Columbus in 1992. Authorities say Myers had been helping Henness find a drug treatment for his wife.

DeWine's January order raised questions about Ohio's death penalty system, including the possibility of an additional round of delays lasting months or years. It took Ohio more than three years to establish its current three-drug lethal injection protocol, in part because of the difficulty many states have had finding drugs. The state carried out the first execution under the current system in 2017.

But over the past decade, multiple manufacturers and distributors have been putting their drugs off limits for executions.

The first drug in Ohio's system, the sedative midazolam, has also been subject to lawsuits that argue it exposes inmates to the possibility of severe pain because it doesn't render them deeply enough unconscious. Because of Ohio's use of midazolam, federal Judge Michael Merz called the constitutionality of the state's system into question in a Jan. 14 ruling and said inmates could suffer an experience similar to waterboarding.

However, Merz did not stop the execution. Instead, he said that under a test created by a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Henness couldn't demonstrate that a feasible execution alternative exists, and thus the execution could proceed. Merz's ruling is likely headed to a federal appeals court, which has previously upheld the use of midazolam in Ohio.

Three additional executions are scheduled before September, and attorneys in all those cases are likely to ask for delays.