Court weigh­ing lethal drug source law

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY AN­DREW WELSH-HUG­GINS

COLUM­BUS, OHIO | A fed­eral ap­peals court is weigh­ing a chal­lenge by death row in­mates of an Ohio law that shields the names of com­pa­nies that pro­vide lethal in­jec­tion drugs.

The pend­ing de­ci­sion by the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the 6th Cir­cuit will help de­ter­mine whether Ohio will pro­ceed with its first ex­e­cu­tions in three years be­gin­ning in Fe­bru­ary.

Ohio plans to ex­e­cute Ron­ald Phillips on Feb. 15 for rap­ing and killing his girl­friend’s 3-year-old daugh­ter in 1993. An­other ex­e­cu­tion is sched­uled for April.

At is­sue is a 2015 law ap­proved by law­mak­ers in hopes of jump-start­ing ex­e­cu­tions in Ohio, which have been on hold since Jan­uary 2014. That’s when it took con­demned in­mate Den­nis McGuire 26 min­utes to die from a never-be­fore-used two-drug method while he re­peat­edly gasped and snorted.

The se­crecy law blocks any­one from get­ting in­for­ma­tion about in­di­vid­u­als or en­ti­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing in ex­e­cu­tions, in­clud­ing com­pa­nies that make or mix drugs.

Fed­eral Mag­is­trate Judge Michael Merz in Dayton cited the 6th Cir­cuit case ear­lier this month when he put ex­e­cu­tions on hold. He said the hold could be lifted af­ter the court rules.

At­tor­neys for death row in­mates ar­gue they can’t mean­ing­fully chal­lenge the use of the drugs with­out the in­for­ma­tion. They also said the se­crecy pro­tec­tions are un­nec­es­sary given the his­tory of law­suits over lethal in­jec­tion in Ohio.

The state cites de­fense at­tor­neys’ “wildly ex­ag­ger­ated and mis­placed ar­gu­ments” to say that the se­crecy pro­vi­sions should be up­held.

“In re­sponse to the in­creas­ing un­avail­abil­ity of ex­e­cu­tion drugs, due to the hes­i­ta­tion of po­ten­tial sup­pli­ers to sell the drugs for fear of threats or ha­rass­ment, the leg­is­la­tures of Ohio and other states have en­acted laws ren­der­ing ‘drugs source’ in­for­ma­tion con­fi­den­tial,” Charles Wille, an as­sis­tant Ohio at­tor­ney gen­eral, said in a July court fil­ing.

The state’s in­ter­est in keep­ing that in­for­ma­tion con­fi­den­tial far out­weighs death row in­mates’ right to the re­lease of that in­for­ma­tion, Mr. Wille said.

Death penalty de­fense at­tor­neys say there’s no ev­i­dence that sup­pli­ers would be ha­rassed.

The Depart­ment of Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and Cor­rec­tion in Oc­to­ber an­nounced plans to use a new three-drug com­bi­na­tion — mi­da­zo­lam, rocuro­nium bro­mide and potas­sium chlo­ride — for at least three ex­e­cu­tions.

Phillips and other in­mates want to block the new pro­ce­dure, ar­gu­ing that it will re­sult in a painful and bar­baric death.

Gov. John Ka­sich has re­jected Phillips’ re­quest for clemency.

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