Ohio panel votes to shield execution drugmaker

AP News
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Posted: Nov 19, 2014 8:15 PM
Ohio panel votes to shield execution drugmaker

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The names of companies providing lethal injection drugs to Ohio would be shielded for at least two decades under fast-tracked legislation approved Wednesday by a House committee.

Those companies would have to ask to be granted anonymity rather than receive it automatically, under last-minute changes to the bill passed 9-4 by the GOP-led House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee.

The 20-year period would begin after the company stops providing drugs to the state, bill sponsor Rep. Matt Huffman said. The state prisons agency has said it can't obtain drugs without the promise of anonymity, he said.

The agency "has represented to us that unless the anonymity clause is in place, they don't believe that vendors will be willing to supply the drugs, the products, or whatever," Huffman said. "And we take them at their word."

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith declined to comment.

The bill, which goes next to the full House for expected approval, gives judges the ability to view information about a vendor, after consultation with the prisons agency.

Huffman said he's confident that provision is constitutional. Opponents say it will draw immediate challenges.

Supporters' hopes that the bill will allow executions to proceed "appear to ride on nothing more than a wing and a prayer that the federal courts will embrace the provisions of this bill with a warm, deferential hug," defense attorney Barry Wilford said. "Good luck with that."

Kevin Smith, testifying for the Society of Professional Journalists, said shielding information about the execution means a condemned killer has a more dignified and compassionate death than his victim, whose story is completely public through the court process.

Rep. Andrew Brenner, a Republican from Powell, a Columbus suburb, responded that most of an execution will still be public and viewed by witnesses, including the date, time and the drug being used.

"How is that secrecy?" Brenner said.

Executions have been on hold since death row inmate Dennis McGuire, put to death with the country's first-ever use of a two-drug combo, took 26 minutes to die in January, repeatedly gasping and snorting. The nearly two-hour execution of an Arizona inmate in July with the same two drugs deepened concerns over their use.

Ohio's first choice — compounded, or specially mixed, pentobarbital — has been used successfully by Texas and Missouri, which won't say where the drug comes from, but Ohio has been unable to obtain it.

The state's next scheduled execution is Feb. 11, when Ronald Phillips is set to die for the 1993 killing of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

The state must determine whether it has enough drugs 30 days before an execution, which has the legislation, introduced just last week, moving swiftly.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.