Joy Stewart, 22, was nearly eight months pregnant when she encountered Dennis McGuire in Preble County, Ohio, while visiting a friend.
McGuire wanted to have sex with her but Stewart refused.
So he raped her.
No, not vaginally. She was so pregnant he couldn’t have sex with her.
So he anally sodamized her. With a knife.
Not surprisingly, Stewart became hysterical. And this made him fear that he would go to jail for raping a pregnant woman.
So he choked her. Then he stabbed her with the same knife he had used to anally rape her.
Finally, he severed her carotid artery and jugular vein. He wiped blood off his hands on her right arm and dumped her in a wooded area where she was found the next day by hikers.
The date was February 11, 1989.
When questioned by police, McGuire blamed Stewart’s kidnapping and murder on his brother-in-law. But the accusation didn’t hold up–and DNA evidence clearly implicated McGuire.
McGuire was convicted of kidnapping, anal rape and aggravated murder on December 8, 1994. But even while facing a grim future, McGuire managed to postpone his fate as his victim could not.
First, his attorneys appealed his conviction to the Ohio Supreme Court on June 10, 1997. To the dismay of him and his mouthpieces, the court upheld the verdict on December 10, 1997.
By this time, McGuire had already outlived his ravished victim by eight years.
Second, his attorneys appealed to the United States Court of Appeals, for the Sixth Circuit. During this appeal, as in the first, McGuire’s attorneys didn’t argue their client was innocent.
They simply claimed that a jury never got to hear the full details of his chaotic and abusive childhood.
As if that had been so much more horrific than the details of Joy Stewart’s rape and murder.
The case was argued on December 16, 2013, and decided on December 30. The court upheld the death penalty verdict.
By that time, McGuire had outlived Joy Stewart by 24 years.
But McGuire’s lawyers weren’t through.
Third, they asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to spare McGuire, again citing his chaotic and abusive childhood.
Kasich rejected that request without comment.
Fourth, on January 6-7, 2014, McGuire’s lawyers argued in Federal appeals court that Ohio’s untried two-drug execution method would cause their client “agony and terror” as he struggled to breathe.
You know, like the “agony and terror” he had deliberately inflicted on Joy Stewart.
Supplies of Ohio’s former execution drug, pentobarbital, had dried up as its manufacturer put it off limits for executions.
Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction planned to use a dose of midazolam, a sedative, combined with hydromorphone, a painkiller, to put McGuire to death.
That appeal proved unsuccessful.
Finally, on January 16, 2014, McGuire kept his long-delayed date with the executioner in a small, windowless room at the Lucasville Correctional facility.
Strapped to a gurney, McGuire gasped, snorted and snored as it took him 26 minutes to die.
“I’m going to heaven,” were his last words.
His surviving family members, of course, feel that a travesty of justice has occurred.
On January 25, they filed a lawsuit in Federal court, claiming that McGuire’s execution was “unconstitutional.”
According to the lawsuit, McGuire suffered “repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and arching his back, appearing to writhe in pain. It looked and sounded as though he was suffocating.”
The McGuire family wants to ensure that such an execution never happens again.
During the execution, his adult children sobbed in dismay. For him. Not his ravaged and innocent victim.
The truth is that there is no execution method that would have satisfied the McGuire family. If they had had their way, Dennis McGuire would have been released altogether.
The old saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied” remains as true–and relevant–as ever.
In order to be effective, punishment must be certain and swift. To repeatedly postpone it–literally for decades after the perpetrator has been convicted–is to inflict further agony on the victim.
Or, in this case, the surviving family and friends of the murdered victim.
And it sends an unmistakable message to those thinking of victimizing others: “Hey, he got to live another 25 years. Maybe I can beat the rap.”
Opponents of capital punishment have long argued that the death penalty is not a deterrant to crime.
In fact, it is.
Having finally had sentence carried out on him, Dennis McGuire will never again threaten the life of anyone.
Prisons scheduled for executions are now facing a chronic shortage of the drugs used to carry out such sentence. The reason: Many drug-makers refuse to make them available for executions.
This has caused some states to reconsider using execution methods that were scrapped in favor of lethal injection.
- the gas chamber
- the electric chair
- even the firing squad.
In line with this debate should be another: Whether the lives of cold-blooded murderers are truly worth more than those of their innocent victims.
And whether those victims–and those who loved them–deserve a better break than they now receive under our legal system.