LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- Ohio put a child killer to death Wednesday, carrying out the state’s first execution after a 3½-year delay and signaling the possible resumption of capital punishment in the state.
Ronald Phillips was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. He was sentenced to die for the 1993 rape and killing of Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter.
His chin and chest moved slightly as the lethal drugs were administered, and prison officials gave Phillips’ time of death as 10:43 a.m. He apologized during his final statement, saying, “Sheila Marie didn’t deserve what I did to her.”
Phillips, 43, lost his final appeal when the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday denied his requests for more time to pursue legal arguments, including a challenge of the state’s new three-drug execution method, which includes a sedative used in some problematic executions in Ohio and elsewhere.
He also argued that his age at the time -- he was 19 -- should have been a consideration for mercy. The nation’s high court already has banned the execution of people under 18.
The death penalty had been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when a condemned inmate repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure with a never-before-tried drug combination.
Republican Gov. John Kasich halted upcoming executions after that, and delays have continued because the state had trouble finding new supplies of drugs and death row inmates sued on the grounds the state’s proposed new three-drug execution method represented “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The state announced in October it acquired a new supply. Phillips and other death row inmates unsuccessfully fought the state’s new execution method that includes 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 inmates’ arguments were backed up by 15 pharmacology professors, who said midazolam is incapable of inducing unconsciousness or preventing serious pain.
Phillips’ execution was previously scheduled and delayed several times, including in 2013 when Kasich allowed time for a last-minute request by Phillips to donate organs. The request was ultimately denied. Phillips wanted to donate a kidney to his mother, who was on dialysis, and possibly his heart to his sister. His mother has since died.
Phillips’ victim died Jan. 18, 1993, following emergency surgery after she was rushed to an Akron hospital when her mother found her motionless on her bed, according to a 2016 parole board document.
An autopsy the following day revealed more than 125 bruises on the girl indicating she’d been severely beaten on the head, face, lower torso, arms, legs and genitalia.
Phillips told police he repeatedly hit the girl after she didn’t respond to his calls for breakfast, the parole board document said. Phillips also admitted raping her that day and two previous times, the document said.
Late last year, the Ohio Parole Board voted 10-2 against recommending mercy, turning down arguments that Phillips was the product of a horrific upbringing and that his trial was marked by legal mistakes.
“Phillips’ crime involved the killing of a vulnerable 3-year-old victim, an abuse of trust, and extensive victimization, therefore making it among the worst of the worst capital crimes,” the board said.
Phillips’ attorneys called the case tragic but argued that Phillips was not among the worst of the worst offenders.
“Evidence of Phillips’s background, history, dysfunctional upbringing, and his reformed character demonstrate that he should not be executed,” attorneys Tim Sweeney and Lisa Lagos wrote in a filing to the parole board.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said Phillips had refused to accept responsibility and it was time for justice to be served.
Kasich rejected clemency late last year, citing “the extremely brutal nature of the offense committed against an innocent 3-year-old child.”
The execution was the 15th in the U.S. this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.