Nine executions in Ohio, including that of a child killer, have been delayed due to a court fight over the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection process.
Next month’s execution of Ronald Phillips was postponed until July 26 and eight other procedures were also put back.
Phillips was scheduled to die on May 10 for raping and killing his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter in Akron, Ohio in 1993.
Republican state governor John Kasich, who announced the delays, said they were necessary due to the timing of arguments before a Cincinnati federal appeals court which is hearing Ohio’s appeal against a federal judge’s order finding the state’s latest execution process unconstitutional.
He issued a similar delay in February to give a three-judge panel of the appeals court time to hear similar arguments.
That panel sided with the lower-court judge. In a rare move, the full court said it would hear the case and set arguments for June 14.
The centre of the arguments is expected to be the contested sedative midazolam used in problematic executions in at least three states.
Convicted killer Kenneth Williams was executed in Arkansas last week, lurching and convulsing 20 times in a lethal injection process that started with midazolam.
The sedative was used in Ohio in January 2014 when Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure, the state’s longest.
Today’s delay by Mr Kasich was another setback for death penalty supporters who hoped that new supplies of drugs obtained by Ohio last year would allow executions to move forward after a delay of more than three years.
The state has said it has enough drugs for four executions, but records indicate Ohio could have enough on hand to put dozens of killers to death.
Attorneys for death row inmates challenging Ohio’s use of midazolam say it does not render inmates fully unconscious, leading to an unconstitutionally high risk of harm.
The state argues that the massive dose planned in Ohio of 500 milligrams - 10 times what it used on McGuire - is more than enough to ensure inmates do not feel pain.
The state also says the US Supreme Court permitted the drug’s use in a 2015 ruling out of Oklahoma.
Arizona inmate Joseph Wood gasped for air and snorted and his belly inflated and deflated during the nearly two hours it took for him to die when the state executed him in July 2014.
Both Ohio and Arizona used a two-drug method - starting with midazolam - that each state has since abandoned. Unlike Ohio, Arizona agreed not to use midazolam in future executions.