Jan. 27 (UPI) -- A federal judge determined that Ohio's three-drug lethal injection protocol is unconstitutional, putting three executions on hold.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael Merz wrote in Thursday's 119-page decision that the use of the sedative drug midazolam is not sufficiently humane.
The "use of midazolam as the first drug in Ohio's present three-drug protocol will create a 'substantial risk of serious harm' or an 'objectively intolerable risk of harm,'" he wrote.
Merz sided with three Ohio death row inmates -- Ronald Phillips, Gary Otte and Raymond Tibbets, the next three scheduled to be executed in the state -- who argued that midazolam could not pass the U.S. Supreme Court threshold under the 8th Amendment protecting against cruel and unusual punishment and amounted to a less humane method of execution.
"Without knowing precisely why, the court finds that those administered midazolam (whether in a one-injection combination with hydromorphone or in sequence with a paralytic and potassium chloride) take longer to die and exhibit different bodily behaviors in the process."
A December ruling said that Ohio cannot resume executions until an appeals court rules on whether the state must reveal the identities of companies manufacturing the drug combinations used in executions.
Using a two-drug protocol in 2014, Ohio executed inmate Dennis McGuire, which lasted 26 minutes. The state then stopped all executions, and in October announced it would use midazolam with paralysis-inducing rocuronium bromide and heart-stopping potassium chloride. Ohio's law on executions states that a drug or combination of drugs must "quickly and painlessly cause death."
Late Thursday the Ohio attorney general's office said it would appeal the decision.