After a failed execution in September, the state of Ohio may have revolutionized capital punishment in America when it put a different inmate to death last month.
It executed Kenneth Biros on Dec. 8 with a single drug, marking the first time in the United States that a lethal injection was not done with a three-drug "cocktail" that has been the subject of numerous legal challenges in recent years.
Missouri and Kansas prison officials say they have no immediate plans to change their protocols, which employ the three-drug method. But death penalty experts think it's highly likely that other states will follow Ohio's lead.
"I had wondered for years why one drug wasn't used," said death penalty proponent Dudley Sharp. "There was some speculative downsides, all of which were, easily, overcome."
Critics of the three-drug method repeatedly have suggested using just one strong sedative. That way, executioners would avoid the possibility of a condemned person suffering excruciating pain during the three-drug process, which is used in most capital punishment states and by the federal government.
In that method, a sedative is injected first to render the condemned person unconscious. A second drug paralyzes muscles. The final drug induces cardiac arrest.
But if the initial anesthetic is injected incorrectly or in insufficient strength, the inmate can suffer agonizing pain from the next two drugs and be unable to cry out or show physical reaction because of the paralytic, experts say.
Litigation over that possibility of "cruel and unusual punishment" has halted and delayed executions across the country, including in Missouri, and has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
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