LETHAL INJECTION: Ohio Carries Out First Pentobarbital-Only Execution

On March 10, the execution of Johnnie Baston (pictured) in Ohio marked the first time any state carried out a death sentence with a single dose of the barbituate pentobarbital. The use of pentobarbital, more commonly employed in euthanizing animals, raised concerns among some death penalty experts. Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno warned, “Ohio is gambling blindly in its rush to execute. There is no reason why Ohio cannot take the time to devise a constitutionally acceptable execution procedure in the way so many experts have recommended.” H. Lundbeck, the U.S. distributor of pentobarbital, condemned the use of the drug in executions in a statement: “It’s against everything we stand for. We invent and develop medicine with the aim of alleviating people’s burden. This is the direct opposite of that.”

Ohio and Washington are the only two states that execute prisoners using one drug, rather than the three-drug protocol used by other states. Oklahoma has used pentobarbital as the first drug in its three-drug protocol. After switching to a one-drug protocol in 2009, Ohio used the anesthetic sodium thiopental in its executions, but switched to pentobarbital after Hospira, Inc., the only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, announced their withdrawal from the market. Pentobarbital is rarely used in medical procedures, and anesthesiologists have raised concerns over its use in executions. Some states have purchased sodium thiopental from foreign sources, but others may follow Ohio and Oklahoma in using alternative lethal injection drugs.

Baston was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Chong Mah in Toledo. Mah’s family has been opposed to the death sentence since the trial and had recently petitioned the Ohio Parole Board for clemency on Baston’s behalf.

(R. Stein, “Ohio executes inmate using new, single-drug method for death penalty,” Washington Post, March 11, 2011). See Lethal Injection and Victims.