Judge says Ohio can shield identity of lethal drug suppliers

AP News
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Posted: Oct 27, 2015 1:59 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio can shield the identity of people or entities involved in obtaining or using lethal injection drugs for executions, a federal judge ruled, rejecting defense attorneys' arguments that the information should be disclosed.

The state's need to obtain the drugs outweighs concerns by death row inmates that the information is needed to meaningfully challenge the source of the drugs, Judge Gregory Frost ruled Monday.

"If execution by lethal injection is legal, and the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly said it is, then it follows that there must be some manner of carrying it out," Frost said.

He said the state has acknowledged it has a list of people and entities that want their names shielded, meaning the request to protect names is more than speculative.

The state argues that disclosing the names of specialty pharmacies that might mix batches of drugs for Ohio could lead to threats against those businesses. But witnesses testifying before Frost agreed there haven't been such threats, Frost said.

As a result, some of Ohio's arguments about the need to protect names are nearly "outright hyperbolic," he said. But the judge also was convinced that disclosing the information could harm the state.

Frost limited his ruling to information about the two drugs currently called for by Ohio's execution policy, sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. The state can't use the decision to shield attempts to find other drugs, the judge said.

Frost put the case on hold to allow for possible appeals by defense attorneys. His successor on the bench would benefit from guidance on the issue by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Frost, who retires next year after years of handling Ohio's lethal injection lawsuits.

An appeal is planned, said federal public defender Allen Bohnert.

"This ruling has the potential to protect state officials and business with whom they engage in illegal activity from the legal consequences of their actions," he said in a statement.

A message was left with the state attorney general's office, which represents the Ohio prisons system.

Executions are delayed in Ohio until at least 2017 while the state tries to find supplies of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital.

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