The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 16, 2014

Death penalty controversy: Who speaks for the victims?

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Dennis McGuire died Thursday.

That was no surprise. It was expected. In fact, it was scheduled.

Dennis McGuire was executed by the state of Ohio Thursday morning for killing a woman in 1994.

It was not a quick death, according to reports.

Ohio used a controversial new combination of drugs to end McGuire’s life.

The change became necessary when some European drug manufacturers banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs to execute condemned prisoners.

McGuire’s lawyers argued using the new drug cocktail would cause their client to “suffocate to death in agony and terror.” They asserted the drugs would cause a condition called “air hunger” before his actual death.

Witnesses said McGuire did not have an easy passing. Instead, he appeared to gasp and convulse for nearly 10 minutes.

A television reporter who witnessed the execution said McGuire’s grown children and daughter-in-law cried and were visibly upset.

McGuire’s death has raised anew the debate about capital punishment in this country, its efficacy as a deterrent to crime as well as the morality of state-sponsored executions.

In the days before his execution, many people came forward to speak on behalf of Dennis McGuire. He was physically and sexually abused as a child, left with impaired brain function that caused him to act impulsively. He lacked proper nutrition, a stable home environment, positive supervision and positive role models.

No one spoke up for Joy Stewart just before she died.

She was 22, a newlywed and about 30 weeks pregnant. She lived in West Alexandria, a small town about 20 miles west of Dayton.

On Feb. 11, 1989, she crossed paths with Dennis McGuire. After breakfast that morning, Joy Stewart went to visit the mother of a friend. The woman had hired a man to clean out her gutters. The man was Dennis McGuire.

Stewart made a mistake that day, apparently accepting a ride from McGuire. Her body was found the next day in a wooded area near a creek.

An autopsy revealed she had been stabbed, twice, with a single-edged blade less than five inches long.

One wound, near her left collarbone, did little damage. But the other was so deep it severed both her carotid artery and jugular vein. Doctors determined Joy was alive when her throat was slashed.

She likely lost consciousness within seconds and was dead in a minute or so, her life blood spilling from her. Her unborn child, of course, died with her.

Joy Stewart’s suffering began before the stabbing, however, according to the autopsy. She was not only raped but sodomized prior to her death.

McGuire later told a fellow inmate he killed her because she became hysterical, and he was afraid he would go to jail for raping a pregnant woman.

McGuire at first implicated his brother-in-law in the crime, but more than a decade later, DNA evidence confirmed his guilt, which he admitted in a letter to Ohio’s governor just last month.

Joy Stewart would be 47 years old if she were alive today, her child would be approaching 25. But their lives were stolen from them on that long-ago February day.

Joy Stewart certainly didn’t do the smart thing by getting in the car with McGuire that day.

He later said she asked if he had any marijuana, and he enticed her into the car by offering to share some with her.

But despite a lapse in judgment, she did not deserve to die in such a horrible way.

Dennis McGuire was abused, he was neglected, he had a disadvantaged upbringing.

But plenty of people have crummy family lives and don’t grow up to be murderers and rapists. A lousy childhood is no excuse.

The Bible calls upon us to forgive. And, indeed, Joy Stewart’s family did forgive Dennis McGuire. But they also acknowledged he needed to pay for what he did.

At present there are more than 3,000 inmates on death row in prisons across the United States. Since 1973, more than 100 have been released from death row because of evidence of their wrongful convictions.

Perhaps the death penalty is not the right answer, but it is the law in many states, Oklahoma included.

It took Dennis McGuire more than 15 minutes to die, and he undoubtedly suffered a fearful, painful death.

But don’t expect me to feel sorry for him.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at