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After Three-Year Hiatus, Ohio Carries Out An Execution

Inmate Ronald Phillips was executed at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, on Wednesday morning. Above, the prison's death chamber in 2005.
Kiichiro Sato

At 10:43 a.m. Wednesday, inmate and convicted murderer Ronald Phillips was pronounced dead, executed via lethal injection by the state of Ohio — the first time the state has carried out a death sentence in more than three years.

Phillips' death at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville may mark the end of one chapter in the state's battle to find a legally permissible means of execution – and the state may soon begin carrying out many more death sentences.

Ohio paused its executions after a lethal injection in 2014 caused inmate Dennis McGuire to gasp and snort during the 15 minutes before he died.

Following Phillips' death, Ohio now has 138 people sentenced to death, among the nation's highest death row populations.

Ohio has executed 54 people since 1999. And it has a number of executions scheduled through 2020, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

As NPR's Debbie Elliott reported in April, the number of executions in the United States has declined significantly in recent years, as states have struggled to find drugs that can kill death row inmates in a constitutional manner.

Phillips, 43, was convicted in 1993 of the rape and murder of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

He was 19 at the time, and his lawyers had argued that his young age should have been taken into consideration.

Phillips had appealed to the Supreme Court for a stay, saying that he "bears no resemblance to that teenager" sentenced to death long ago, and asking for more time to pursue legal arguments in his case, the Associated Press reports.

But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied his request, and the state went forward with his execution. Phillips was killed using the three drugs that comprise Ohio's new method, including "a sedative, midazolam, used in some troubled executions in Ohio, Arkansas and Arizona. The other drugs are rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes inmates, and potassium chloride, which stop their hearts," the AP reports.

"Ron Phillips committed an unspeakable crime when he was 19 years old, and was himself the product of a home filled with abuse and neglect," Timothy F. Sweeney and Lisa M. Lagos, his attorneys, said in a joint statement to The Washington Post. "But the grown man who woke up this morning at age 43, ready to face his punishment, did not in any way resemble that troubled and broken teen. He had grown to be a good man, who was thoughtful, caring, compassionate, remorseful, and reflective. He tried every day to atone for his shameful role in Sheila's death."

Phillips read a last statement to the victim's family, which the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction provided to NPR.

"To the Evans family, I'm sorry you had to live so long with my evil actions," he said. "All those years I prayed you'd forgive me and find it in your heart to forgive and have mercy on me."

"God may forgive him, but I don't think I can," the deceased girl's aunt, Donna Hudson, told The Columbus Dispatch after witnessing Phillips' execution. Hudson said she came "to make sure that baby girl got justice."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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