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Ohio's former prisons chief: 'The death penalty isn't worth fixing' Bookmark

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Shine Light on Executions Bookmark

The Columbus Dispatch

on November 3, at 5:34 aM

Another execution. Another debacle. Another debate.

No undertaking by government ought to have greater transparency than the process by which government takes life in the name of justice.

This raises serious concerns about a federal judge’s order last week that allows the source of drugs used to carry out Ohio’s death penalty to remain shielded.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost upheld a state law, House Bill 663, passed hastily in December after officials couldn’t find a willing drug supplier. State officials concluded secrecy was the answer to drug manufacturers’ and compounding pharmacies’ concerns over morality and threats by protesters.

The law conceals the source of drugs and forever keeps confidential the names of execution-team members and physicians involved in the executions.

Since lethal injection is legal, Frost ruled, “it follows that there must be some manner of carrying it out.

But the new law has yet to goad drug suppliers into cooperating. Lacking available drugs, Gov. John Kasich has postponed all executions until 2017.

This delay is advantageous, giving attorneys for Death Row inmates time to appeal Frost’s ruling. They’ve argued that the law should be overturned because it illegally deprives people of access to government information and proceedings surrounding the death penalty.

No other action by the state has greater gravity and permanence than carrying out a death sentence, and this argues for it to be carried out with full transparency.

As Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said as H.B. 663 was pending: “We have an open-records laws that supposedly contains a strong presumption that records are open with rare exceptions.”

He noted that Ohioans had seen no evidence that threats to drug suppliers “rise above normal types of protests that citizens are entitled to mount against businesses that do controversial things. Nor have we seen documentation as to why the existing laws against threats and intimidation aren’t good enough.”

The drug-secrecy law is especially egregious in light of Ohio’s execution failures. In January 2014, Dennis McGuire choked, gasped and struggled for more than 10 minutes while being executed with a new drug combination never before used in this country. Another killer, Romell Broom, is suing to stop Ohio’s second attempt to put him to death: In 2009, state prison officials botched their two-hour-long effort to insert intravenous needles to deliver the fatal drugs.

There are many valid reasons to consider abandoning the death penalty: Some of those condemned have been exonerated by DNA evidence or the real killer’s confession. The process is costly and time-consuming; Broom killed his victim in 1984; McGuire, in 1989. And companies that sell life-saving and life-improving drugs don’t want to be associated with the execution trade.

But Frost’s ruling adds another important objection: The new law shields the source of lethal-injection drugs for state executions, closing vital public records and stifling transparency (and, ever so handy, public criticism).

If government is going to kill on behalf of its citizens, the public needs to be able to scrutinize government’s actions — from the open criminal trial to the source of drugs used to carry out the death sentence — to determine that constitutional rights were upheld and that the state’s actions were carried out humanely and competently.

Flawed Arizona execution must force another look at Ohio's death cocktail Bookmark

The Plain Dealer

By Editorial Board
on July 28, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Another execution. Another debacle. Another debate.

This time the backdrop was a death chamber in Arizona. Condemned killer Joseph Rudolph Wood III took an hour and 40 minutes to die from lethal injection. For most of that time, he "gasped and struggled for breath," according to an account from Reuters.

One witness said Wood looked like "a fish on shore gulping for air."

Wood was put to death with a combination of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a narcotic painkiller, the same drugs Ohio used when it executed Dennis McGuire in January. McGuire gasped and gulped in similar fashion while taking 26 minutes to die.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction stated after a review of McGuire's execution that he did not suffer "any pain and distress," but that the state would up the lethal dosage.

Well, the same dosage now contemplated by Ohio is what Arizona administered to Wood, according to Northeast Ohio Media Group reporter Jeremy Pelzer.

Gov. John Kasich should step in to insist on a more comprehensive investigation in Ohio.

This editorial board has long opposed the death penalty, but if Ohio is going to continue to execute prisoners, it must at a minimum certify that it can do so constitutionally, which means without cruel, painful, drawn-out deaths.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has called for an independent review of Wood's execution, just as Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin did after condemned killer Clayton Lockett died of a massive heart attack in April when a different combination of drugs could not be properly administered.

Kasich, to his credit, has provided clemency to five death-row inmates since taking office in 2011, citing various reasons unrelated to the method of execution. After McGuire's controversial death, he postponed the next scheduled execution to allow for an internal review.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost in Columbus has issued a moratorium on executions in Ohio until Aug. 15 to allow for further debate over the state's lethal-injection process.

Kasich should now set an indefinite moratorium of his own and insist on a more complete probe of the state of the state's death drugs.

Gov. Kasich should move to abolish executions, not schedule them anew: editorial Bookmark

The Plain Dealer

By Editorial Board
on September 14, 2014 at 6:00 AM, updated September 14, 2014 at 6:03 AM
A federal lawsuit before Judge Gregory Frost in Columbus raises serious questions about whether Ohio's lethal-injection protocol is so flawed that it can result in unconstitutionally painful and lingering deaths.
Frost put a moratorium on Ohio executions -- a stay recently extended to Jan. 15, 2015 -- to give both sides in the legal challenge more time to obtain evidence and present arguments.
Yet without waiting for a definitive ruling, Gov. John Kasich earlier this month approved new execution dates, starting Feb. 11, 2015, apparently assuming the state's execution protocol will be upheld by Frost.
Frost is to decide whether Ohio's method violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as well as the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Ohio's protocol calls for executioners to administer a lethal injection of pentobarbital. but that drug's European manufacturer doesn't want it used for executions and the use of compounding pharmacies to supply it raises concerns about quality control.
The state's Plan B calls for using a combination of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a morphine derivative. Those drugs were administered to Dennis McGuire, a death row inmate whose execution last January took about 25 minutes and resulted in McGuire gasping and snorting in what some claim was agonizing torture.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said a review determined that McGuire did not suffer undue pain, but how can that be known for sure? The man is dead. The state said that it is upping the dose, yet a recent execution in Arizona using that higher dose also resulted in an extended execution (more than 1 1/2 hours) and a repeat of the troubling spectacle of the condemned man gasping for breath.
Critics further question Ohio's conclusions because, if there were no hitches, why the need to up the dose?
"If everything went perfectly, everything went smoothly, then what possible cause could there be for them to change what they're doing," Mike Brickner of the American Civil Liberties of Ohio said in April after the state released its report.
It's time Ohio joined 18 other states and Washington, D.C., which have all abolished the death penalty – a practice this editorial board believes is unjust, immoral and too costly.
At the very least, Kasich should wait for Frost's ruling before queuing up inmates again for execution.