Ohio Works on New Law to Cover up Death Penalty Information
Since the rather brutal 26-minute execution of Dennis McGuire this past January, Ohio hasn’t killed any of its death-row inmates—and not for lack of trying. In May, Gregory L. Frost, federal judge for the state’s southern district, put a moratorium on lethal injection, the idea being that Ohio would clean up its drug protocols, rejiggered into a two-drug cocktail after the state’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections ran out of European pentobarbital.
In August, Judge Frost extended the moratorium until January 15, and that’s when lawmakers and operatives in the Attorney General’s office started getting antsy. Ronald Phillips has been scheduled for execution on February 11, but the state has run out of drugs; meanwhile, the public is still asking questions: Will upping the midazolam dosage relative to hydromorphone really ensure a death free from cruel and unusual punishment? Will domestic pharmacies, emboldened by the assurance of anonymity and still unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, start compounding pentobarbital once more? Do the administering physicians know what they’re doing, and are they actual physicians? How can you trust a state that has flubbed four executions in the last eight years?
The answer is to provide no answers. Republican lawmakers, with the aggressive support of Attorney General Mike DeWine, are set to pass HB 663, a sweeping new secrecy law that would shield the names of compounding pharmacies, distributors, and medical “experts” present at executions. Not even the courts would have access to this information. Perhaps more daring, HB 663 voids certain contracts with European distributors who stopped selling death-drugs to American buyers in 2010 and 2011—specifically, the bill voids contractual caveats that block states from using European drugs to kill citizens. This last bit is pretty brazen: As the Guardian reports: “Should the bill make it into law, that provision is certain to be challenged in the courts as a potentially unconstitutional state intervention into commercial contracts.”
But then it’s all pretty brazen. Instead of finding sounder lethal-injection protocols, Ohio is redoubling its commitment to opacity; instead of answering the hard questions about a shameful period in American capital punishment, the state is seeking to silence those questions wholesale.