Ohio inmate ODs on pills hours before execution

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Gov. Ted Strickland on Monday postponed the execution of a convicted killer who managed to take an overdose of pills in his death row cell and was found unconscious just hours before he was to be driven to his execution.

Lawrence Reynolds Jr., 43, who was sentenced to die for killing his neighbor in 1994, was found unconscious around 11:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn said.

Reynolds, who was scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday, was showing signs of consciousness Monday at a Youngstown hospital, but medical staff weren’t prepared to release him, Walburn said. He was upgraded from serious to stable condition.

The inmate took the pills despite being under a 72-hour watch — routine for inmates approaching an execution date — that includes monitoring by prison guards outside the cell, Walburn said.

Guards are supposed to keep inmates under constant observation, making log entries every 30 minutes, she said. Death row inmates have access to a recreation area and, if approved, are allowed interaction with other inmates.

Walburn did not say what kind of pills Reynolds took or how he got them, and an investigation is under way.

Reynolds’ injuries were self-imposed, she said, but declined to call it a suicide attempt. Strickland issued a seven-day reprieve and rescheduled the execution for March 16.

No further details about Reynolds’ activities Sunday were released. He had been scheduled to leave at 3 a.m. Monday for the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, which houses the state’s death chamber.

Reynolds has been challenging Ohio’s new lethal injection procedure, which uses a one-drug system instead of three drugs. As expected, his attorneys filed an appeal Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to postpone the execution.

The Ohio public defender’s office, which is representing Reynolds, declined to comment on the overdose until attorneys gathered more information, spokeswoman Amy Borror said.

This appears to be the first time since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1999 that an inmate scheduled for execution “has been found unresponsive mere hours from being transported” to the state death chamber, Walburn said.

It’s rare, but not unheard of, for condemned inmates to attempt suicide as they approach execution dates, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group opposed to capital punishment.

California has executed 13 inmates since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978 — a period during which 17 condemned inmates committed suicide.

Nine condemned inmates in Texas have committed suicide since death row reopened there in 1974. The last, William Robinson, 49, used a sheet to hang himself in his cell at a psychiatric center in February 2008.

Reynolds was sentenced to die for strangling his 67-year-old neighbor in her Cuyahoga Falls home to get money for alcohol.

Tuesday would have been the second time the state has tried to execute Reynolds. He was scheduled to die in October, but Strickland delayed the execution so the state could review its lethal injection procedure.

Since then, Ohio has switched from a three-drug process, which opponents said could cause severe pain, to the one-drug system. Reynolds lost a bid to have the execution delayed so he could challenge the new system when federal appeals court on Friday denied his request.

Three inmates have been executed with the state’s new, one-drug new method, and in each case death came in just a few minutes. Washington last week became the second state to adopt the procedure.