July 26 (UPI) -- Ohio on Wednesday carried out its first capital punishment sentence in three years by executing Ronald Phillips, a man convicted of raping and beating a 3-year-old girl to death.
Phillips' execution occurred after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a final legal attempt to save his life late Tuesday.
The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville executed Phillips at 10:43 a.m. EDT Wednesday. He was put on death row for the 1993 rape and murder of Sheila Marie Evans, the daughter of his ex-girlfriend.
Phillips, 43, and his lawyers had appealed the Supreme Court for a last-ditch stay by arguing Ohio's planned method of execution was not safe. His defense team also argued that today Phillips "bears no resemblance to that teenager" sentenced to death more than 20 years ago.
The Supreme Court did not explain its decision to deny the stay, though two justices dissented by saying Phillips had a right to question the method of execution.
Timothy Sweeney, an attorney for Phillips, had argued that the first in a three-drug execution protocol of midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride "cannot be used safely" and is "unsuitable for use."
Sweeney has unsuccessfully called on Ohio Gov. John Kasich to prevent all executions prior to Phillips' death.
"Governor Kasich should heed the widespread, bipartisan opposition to resuming executions with this risky execution protocol and should not proceed with any executions until the task force's substantive recommendations to improve the death penalty in Ohio have been implemented," Sweeney said in an emailed statement.
Phillips was initially set to to die in January 2016, but that date was pushed back several times. In October 2015, Ohio said it would postpone scheduled executions until at least 2017 due to the dwindling availability of the drugs used for lethal injections. The problem worsened after many compounding pharmacies, which had previously supplied the drugs, started refusing to sell them to prisons on legal and ethical grounds.
The European Union voted in 2011 to ban the sale of pentobarbital to the United States over its use in executions.
Before Phillips, Ohio's last execution was in January 2014 when convicted killer Dennis McGuire was put to death -- an incident that upset death penalty opponents. Witnesses to his execution said it took up to 25 minutes for McGuire to die and that he appeared to gasp for air throughout the process.
"Ronald Phillips has been executed. Please pray for him, his family, the family of Sheila Marie Evans, and an end to all forms of violence," Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent anti-death penalty activist, wrote in a statement Wednesday. "All forms of killing are wrong. That includes violent crime and state executions. Brutality in response to brutality is not justice."