Lethal Injection Execution of Ohio Child Killer 'Too Easy,' Victim's Family Says

A pharmacy technician prepares a solution containing midazolam on March 13, 2012. Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post/Getty

Ohio carried out its first execution in more than three years Wednesday morning when it put to death Ronald Ray Phillips, 43, a convicted child murderer, using a new, controversial three-drug cocktail.

The mix of midazolam, a sedative-hypnotic, rocuronium bromide, a paralytic agent that inhibits breathing, and potassium chloride, an electrolyte solution that prevents the heart from beating, had been challenged by Phillips and other death-row inmates who say it causes an agonizing death.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently reviewed appeals about whether midazolam's use in lethal injections constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Midazolam is often used to sedate patients before invasive medical procedures such as colonoscopies. However, it has been associated with multiple prolonged executions. In January 2014, Dennis McGuire became the first inmate in Ohio to receive midazolam during an execution rather than a sedative drug from the pentobarbital class.

The state was unable to obtain the previously used barbiturate drug from Lundbeck, the only manufacturer approved to sell the drug in the U.S. The European pharmaceutical company, tasked with manufacturing life-saving and life-enhancing medications, issued a statement: "Lundbeck adamantly opposes the distressing misuse of our product in capital punishment."

Alan Johnson, a state reporter, witnessed McGuire's execution, "There were powerful choking sounds that were wracking up his body. He was straining upward." After Ohio suspended its use of the controversial three-drug mixture, Arizona used it to execute Joseph Wood. His execution lasted for approximately two hours—over 640 gasps—prompting his attorney to call a judge and request that life-saving measures be instituted.

Phillips' attorneys mounted appeals related to the use of midazolam in Wednesday's execution. They also noted that no pain medications are being used in the current lethal injection protocol. The federal judge assigned to the appeal upheld Ohio's right to use the cocktail. Although Phillips' attorneys submitted another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was not accepted for further review.

At 10:23 a.m., masked staff inspected both of Phillips' arms for veins. Within five minutes, he had intravenous lines placed in both. At 10:31 a.m., Phillips prayed as the midazolam flowed into his body. He apologized to the family of his victim, 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, who he raped and killed, and gave a thumbs-up to his own family. By 10:34 a.m., witnesses reported he was motionless except for a solitary tear escaping from his eye. His time of death was recorded as 10:43 a.m. Johnson noted, "no heaving, no coughing, no gasping, no struggling, no trying to raise up. It was incredibly different from the traumatic execution {of McGuire] I witnessed three-and-a-half years ago."

"It was too easy," Renee Mundell, the victim's half-sister stated after witnessing the execution. "[Sheila Marie] suffered. It was awful what we had to see in the courtroom, at the clemency hearings… those pictures."

After the execution, Allen Bohnert, an assistant federal public defender, stated: "While Ohio will try to characterize today's execution as problem-free… [midazolam] cannot render a person insensate to the unconstitutional pain and suffering of the second and third drugs." Bohnert intonated that Ohio was essentially "hiding visible evidence" of suffering. He noted that both Oklahoma and Alabama require at least a five-minute interval between the injection of the sedative and the injection of the fatal drugs. In this case, Ohio gave the drugs in rapid succession. There was only one minute between the injections of the first and second drugs. Bohnert implied those actions may have masked visible signs of distress caused by midazolam.

"There have been so many different appeals in this case," notes Sherri Bevan Walsh, the Summit County prosecutor. Walsh was a victims' advocate at the time of the crime and is now serving her fifth term as the elected prosecutor. "No matter what drug is being used, no matter what method is being proposed, there is always going to be a fight… I can't think of a case more deserving of the death penalty than what Ronald Phillips did to Sheila Evans."

At the age of 19, Phillips had raped, tortured and murdered Evans, his girlfriend's child. "She was a typical little 3-year-old," her aunt, Donna Hudson, explained tearfully, "happy, smiling, running around." Hudson had met Phillips before the crime. "At the time, you would think he would never do no wrong," she noted. "Then, walking down the hallway at the hospital, all of a sudden… a nurse [said to me], 'I don't think your niece is gonna make it."

The coroner spent more than two hours counting all 125 bruises on Sheila's bloody body, according to the autopsy report. Phillips' blows caused bleeding around her heart. The bleeding around her brain increased the pressure in her skull and pushed her brain down toward her neck. Moreover, part of her intestine died, releasing feces and digestive enzymes into her belly. The freed digestive juices fed on her organs for approximately 48 hours before she finally succumbed to death. During this time, Phillips sodomized the small child.

"I flipped out and beat up Sheila… I hit all over her body and also threw her around," Phillips admitted. However, he initially asserted it was her mother, Fae Evans, who dealt the child the fatal blow. Fae Evans was sentenced to 13 to 30 years in prison for her involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. She died of leukemia before her release. Meanwhile, Phillips was sentenced to death for Sheila's murder.

After the execution, Phillips' attorney Tim Sweeney stated, "Ron Phillips committed an unspeakable crime when he was 19… The grown man who woke up this morning at age 43 did not in any way resemble that broken troubled teen… No one is beyond redemption." During his incarceration, Phillips became a certified minister and prepared his first sermon, which his attorneys stated occurred Wednesday—by his dying with dignity and courage.

"God forgave him, but I'm sorry—I don't think I can," Donna Hudson, Sheila Marie's aunt, stated today. "This is the first time in 24 years, we have seen any remorse in this man… [he shed] one tear when they gave him his court sentence… nothing else until today."

Sheila Marie's half sister, Renee Mundell, added: "I have mixed feelings right now. After so many years, it's time to remember my little sister: innocent and loving… with the whole world ahead of her. It's time to say goodbye to the man who took it all away from us."