Ohio senators pass lethal injection drug bill

AP News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2014 7:24 PM
Ohio senators pass lethal injection drug bill

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers on Thursday rushed to pass a lethal injection law meant to restart executions even as prosecutors who want a condemned child killer executed in February say they're confident the procedure won't happen as scheduled.

The legislation will undoubtedly lead to court challenges that will make putting death row inmate Ronald Phillips to death on Feb. 11 impossible, said Brad Gessner, chief counsel for the Summit County Prosecutor's office.

A Dec. 1 court filing by the office said the chances of Phillips' execution happening were "nil."

"We're at that point that regardless of what is done with the law, the opponents of this punishment will do whatever they feel they need to do to delay this," Gessner said Thursday. Phillips' attorneys declined comment.

Phillips, 41, was sentenced to die for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.

The legislation, which passed the Senate on 20-10 vote Thursday, would shield the names of companies that provide lethal injection drugs to Ohio, a provision that supporters say is necessary to obtain supplies of the drugs by protecting drugmakers from harassment.

Opponents say concerns about such harassment are overblown and that it's naive to think the bill can truly protect companies' names from being revealed.

Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Eklund, a northeastern Ohio Republican, said the bill was fair.

"We're doing what we think is right," Eklund said after the GOP-controlled committee approved the legislation Thursday afternoon. "I'm confident that it falls well within the constitutional scope of our authority."

The anonymity for companies — which would last 20 years — was requested by lawmakers after prosecutors said executions wouldn't happen in Ohio without such protection. It's aimed at so-called compounding pharmacies that mix doses of specialty drugs.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, told her colleagues she opposed the bill, in part, because it raises many questions that should trouble lawmakers.

"Shouldn't it cause us great discomfort to know that we find ourselves trying to figure out how to assure confidentiality to drug companies — not just small compounders but large, international drug companies — because no business wants to publicly admit that they are playing a role in Ohio's executions?" she asked.

The bill also requires the state ethics commission to review such contracts — under seal — for any concerns about conflicts of interest between the company and state employees.

In addition, the bill creates a committee to study "the manner and means" of how executions are carried out. At issue is whether other methods already ruled constitutional — such as the electric chair — should be considered. The state abolished electrocution as an option more than a decade ago.

The state hasn't been able to obtain its first choice for an execution drug, compounded pentobarbital, and problems with its two-drug backup method led to an unofficial moratorium on executions after an inmate gasped and snorted during his 26-minute procedure in January.

Further questions about those drugs, midazolam and hydromorphone, arose after Arizona used them during a nearly two-hour execution of an inmate in July.

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Associated Press Writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report. Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.