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The federal court of appeal weighs Ohio law shielding lethal drug source

FILE – This undated file combination photo made available by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections show death row inmates Ronald Phillips and Raymond Tibbetts.

(AP)

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

Pending the decision of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will help you to determine whether Ohio will continue with the first executions in three years, starting 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 in 2015 a law approved by legislators in the hope of jumpstarting executions in Ohio, which have been interrupted 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.

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The secrecy law blocks anyone from getting information about individuals or entities that participate in executions, including companies that make, or the mixing of drugs.

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

Lawyers of the condemned prisoners say that they cannot meaningfully challenge the use of the drugs without the information. They also said that the confidentiality protections are redundant given the history of litigation over lethal injection in Ohio.

“Ohio’s own history of 53 lethal injection executions over a period of 16 years is never required for the establishment of a privilege it is to shield absolutely those who participate in the board, not even the executioner himself, and the real members of the team performance,” Allen Bohnert, a federal public prosecutor said in a court filing.

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

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

The state interest in keeping that information confidential is much more important than the death row inmates’ right to the release of that information, Wille said.

Death penalty defense attorneys, that there is no evidence that the suppliers would be harassed.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced in October plans for the use of a three-drug combination — midazolam, as rocuronium and potassium bromide, and chloride for a minimum of three executions.

Phillips and the other prisoners want to block the new procedure, with the argument that it will result in a painful and gruesome death.

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

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