Judge wants clarity on Ohio's lethal injection drug supply
Posted January 10
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A federal judge weighing whether Ohio's new execution method is constitutional ordered the state Tuesday to clear up whether its supply of three lethal injection drugs is enough to carry out far more executions than it claimed three months ago.
The directive from Magistrate Judge Michael Merz comes a day after The Associated Press reported inventory logs show Ohio has enough supplies of lethal injection drugs for dozens of executions — more than the three it told Merz about last year.
Attorneys for the Ohio prisons system told Merz in October the state had enough drugs to proceed with three executions this year. Until the AP report, it was unclear how much of the three lethal drugs the state possessed and whether it had enough for more executions.
Ohio plans to put condemned child killer Ronald Phillips to death next month with a new three-drug method similar to one the state used several years ago. It plans to use the same method to put inmates to death in March and April. The state has four additional executions scheduled this year but hasn't said what drugs it will use.
The state is reviewing the judge's order and will respond, said Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General's Office. The judge set a Friday deadline for the response.
The logs obtained by the AP through a records request show the state could conceivably carry out dozens of executions with its current supply. What is unclear are the expiration dates for the drugs — information not provided on the logs — which could control whether they're available for future executions.
The records show the prison system received supplies three times in September and October for the first drug used in the process, a sedative called midazolam, which has been at the center of several lawsuits over lethal injection.
The records show the state obtained supplies twice in September and October for the second drug used in the process and three times in September for the third drug.
The state has said the drugs it plans to use on the first three executions this year are standard drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though it won't say where they came from.
Attorneys representing death row inmates have been unable to identify the suppliers or producers because of a 2015 law shielding such information and because recent federal court rulings bar them from obtaining the data through usual evidence channels.
Drugmakers have by and large put their drugs off-limits for executions. Last year, Pfizer put seven drugs off-limits, including the three drugs to be used by Ohio. But drugs like midazolam are widespread, found everywhere from dental offices to veterinary clinics, making it difficult to trace the origin.
Executions have been on hold in Ohio since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire gasped and snorted during the 26 minutes it took him to die, the longest execution since the state resumed putting prisoners to death in 1999.
The state used a two-drug method with McGuire, starting with midazolam, its first use for executions in the country.
Attorneys challenging Ohio's new three-drug method say midazolam is unlikely to relieve an inmate's pain. The drug, which is meant to sedate inmates, also was used in a problematic 2014 execution in Arizona. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in an Oklahoma case.
The state says the three-drug method is similar to its past execution process, which survived court challenges. State attorneys also say the Supreme Court ruling last year makes clear the use of midazolam is allowable.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins