Death row inmate argues Ohio's executions are illegal


COLUMBUS — A man on death row for the killing of an Elyria girl in 1988 is arguing that using lethal chemicals to put inmates to death violates federal prescription drug laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar argument 25 years ago, and the state Attorney General's Office said today the complaint has no merit.

But lawyers for Darryl Durr, 46, who is scheduled for execution April 20, believe they are raising new issues and have asked U.S. District Judge Michael Watson to act quickly to hear the claim that administering the drugs to carry out a death sentence is illegal.

Ohio executes inmates with a single dose of the anesthetic thiopental sodium. A backup method would inject into the prisoner's muscle a sedative and then painkiller that together cause death. That method has never been used.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, argues that the use of the drugs violates the federal Controlled Substances and Food, Drug and Cosmetic acts. Durr says those laws require doctors to prescribe and administer such drugs, neither of which happens in Ohio.

Ohio's executioners are prison employees, some of whom have worked at times as paramedics. No doctors or nurses participate in putting inmates to death in the state.

Prison officials "intend to extinguish Plaintiff Durr's life" by injecting him with drugs that were obtained without a doctor's prescription in violation of federal law, the lawsuit says.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar argument brought in 1985 by death row inmates in Oklahoma and Texas, who argued the Food and Drug Administration had not approved drugs used in executions for that purpose. The FDA refused the inmates' request to stop the practice and the court upheld the FDA unanimously.

Durr argues in the lawsuit that he's not asking the FDA to enforce the law but requesting the judge to find that Ohio's use of the drugs in executions is illegal.

The state Attorney General disagreed.

"We do not believe Durr's new suit has any merit and are preparing a motion to dismiss," said Ted Hart, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

Durr was sentenced to die for the rape and strangulation of 16-year-old Angel O'Nan of Elyria in 1988.

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