Dennis McGuire holds a tissue while announcing a planned lawsuit against the state over the unusually slow execution of his father, also named Dennis McGuire, at a news conference Friday, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Kantele Franko)
Updated: February 22, 2014 6:13AM
Quite a bit of outrage is being heard over what’s described as Ohio’s lengthy, cruel execution of Dennis McGuire. As is usual in news coverage of death penalty controversies, the real victim — the person murdered by the criminal — is often mentioned in passing with only a generic description of how she came to die. So let’s take a moment to recall the last day on Earth of McGuire’s victim, Joy Stewart.
Joy Stewart, 22, was nearly eight months pregnant when she encountered McGuire in Preble County, Ohio, while visiting a friend on Feb. 11, 1989. McGuire would first blame her kidnapping and murder on his brother-in-law. Authorities took his words seriously because he knew things about the crime that had not been made public, such as the anal rape of the victim, and he led them to the murder weapon, a knife, hidden in a farm hayloft. But McGuire’s accusation didn’t hold up and DNA evidence excluded the brother-in-law but implicated McGuire.
McGuire sought sex from Joy Stewart but she refused and he raped her. According to court documents, McGuire said that “because she was so pregnant it was difficult to engage in sex with her, so he anally sodomized her. Joy then became ‘hysterical,’ which made McGuire nervous. He ended up killing Joy for fear that he would go to jail for raping a pregnant woman.”
He choked her. Then he stabbed her with the knife he used to forcibly rape her. His first thrust “caused no significant injury,” according to the autopsy report. His second blow inflicted a 4½-inch cut in her throat and 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.
Sometime between her death and when her body was found, her unborn baby died. Her grave marker indicates she intended to name her baby Carl, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Her husband Kenny committed suicide within a year after her murder, reports the newspaper. Joy’s sister, Carol Avery, said their parents were devastated: “They never fully recovered and both died knowing that her killer still lived.”
Preble County prosecutors rightly observed, “One can scarcely conceive of a sequence of crimes more shocking to the conscience or to moral sensibilities” than the kidnapping, rape and murder of a pregnant woman.
I don’t know how long Joy Stewart’s ordeal lasted. Certainly it was longer than the 24 minutes it took McGuire to die. His gasps and choking sounds allegedly caused by “air hunger” from the lethal drugs came, from all appearances, while he was unconscious. McGuire never claimed Joy Stewart was unconscious during her suffering — she experienced every terror- and pain-filled moment.
Carol, Joy’s sister, eloquently summed up the case:
“There has been a lot of controversy regarding the drugs that are to be used in his execution, concern that he might feel terror, that he might suffer. As I recall the events preceding her death — forcing her from the car, attempting to rape her vaginally, sodomizing her, choking her, stabbing her, leaving her to bleed out — I know she suffered terror and pain.
“He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her.”