UD alum reports on local execution: ‘I didn’t really know what I was signing myself up for’

By: Kayleigh Fladung – Copy Editor

As recent graduates enter the workforce, they are often thrown into unfamiliar situations.

Megan Kennedy, a 2013 University of Dayton graduate, never thought her career path would lead her to Dennis McGuire’s execution on Jan. 16.

“I’ve always wanted to do investigative reporting,” Kennedy said. “But honestly, I never thought I would be at an execution ever in my life.”

Kennedy’s new reporting position at The Register-Herald, a weekly newspaper in Preble County has presented her with many new opportunities. Covering McGuire’s execution posed a particularly difficult challenge.

McGuire raped and killed Joy Stewart in 1989 in Preble County.

Last month, McGuire was executed with a two-drug cocktail, the newest form of lethal injection, and his death took about 25 minutes, an abnormally long execution according to witnesses. He reportedly gasped for air and struggled for close to 10 minutes after he was injected.

The execution received extensive coverage and criticism because it lasted so long. McGuire’s family has called his death “cruel and unusual,” according a Dayton Daily News story published Feb. 4.

“The Register-Herald is really the only Preble County newspaper,” Kennedy said. “When it came to writing the story, I felt like I was caught in a weird position because I live in the town where this crime happened and people clearly are angry at Dennis McGuire. At the same time, I needed to say what happened to him. Whether he suffered or not is not the point because it did take a long time for him to die. I was kind of torn. I wanted to approach this correctly.”

Kennedy turned to Annette Taylor, a communication professor at UD, and Kevin Smith, a former UD communication professor, for guidance on covering the execution.

“I didn’t really know what I was signing myself up for,” she said. “When I volunteered to cover this, I contacted Dr. Taylor and said ‘You will not believe this. I’m covering an execution and I don’t know what I’m doing.’ She kind of gave me ideas of how to go about writing the story, which was helpful. Then I called Kevin Smith and talked to him about how to ethically write the story. He gave me some tips too about how to angle the story.”

Kennedy said she did not witness the execution but was in the media room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville when McGuire was put to death. She was given a packet of information about McGuire, his crime and the execution process.

Alan Johnson, from the Columbus Dispatch, and Sheila Grey, a television news anchor from Channel 22 in Dayton, served as media witnesses to the execution and gave their accounts to everyone in the media room after McGuire was pronounced dead. Kennedy said the experience was surreal.

“I played over and over again how I thought [covering this story] would play out and how I thought that I would feel,” she said. “Before I got there I thought I would just be glad it was over and write the story. But the experience kind of made your skin crawl, knowing you were in the same facility as someone who just died, someone who inflicted so much pain on so many people. It was a really weird feeling. The drive home was almost just somber.”

Kennedy said it took her a few days to gather her thoughts and write the story. In the end, she wrote a news piece about the execution and an opinions piece about her experience covering it. She said both were well received and that members of the community have come to her office asking to meet her and thank her for her work.

She said she is grateful for the opportunity to cover controversial topics like McGuire’s execution, especially as a young reporter without much experience.

“Nothing could have prepared me for this,” Kennedy said. “Most of the big stories I’ve done so far have really been my idea. My bosses have been amazing and really are letting me try a lot of new things.”

Kennedy said although she hopes to work at a larger publication one day, right now she is content at The Register-Herald.

“It’s been great,” she said. “I’m honestly just trying to have as many different experiences as I can.”