Killers' lawyers seek more info on Ohio's lethal drug supply

Posted at 12:28 PM, Jan 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 12:28:01-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Lawyers for condemned inmates are trying to learn more about Ohio's supply of execution drugs at a time the state prisons agency is reluctant to give out that information.

At issue is whether Ohio has enough drugs for a handful of executions or a supply that could greenlight more than two dozen procedures over the next four years.

A filing this week on behalf of an inmate scheduled to die in July attempts to force the state to say more about the lethal drugs it possesses.

Lawyers for that death row prisoner, Robert Van Hook, asked a federal magistrate Tuesday to allow them to challenge the state's new three-drug execution method.

The state said in October it had enough drugs for three executions, and then last week told a federal magistrate it had enough to put a fourth inmate, Alva Campbell, to death in May, the attorneys said in the filing.

Lawyers for Van Hook need time to prepare a challenge of Ohio's new lethal injection process, "assuming that the State has execution drugs beyond those needed for the execution of Alva Campbell," according to Tuesday's filing.

A response from the state is expected soon. Van Hook was sentenced to die for fatally strangling and stabbing David Self, a man he met in a bar in Cincinnati in 1985.

Last week, Magistrate Judge Michael Merz ordered the state to say more about its execution drug supply. That order came a day after The Associated Press reported - based on an open records request - that documents show Ohio has enough drugs for dozens of executions.

State attorneys responded by saying the news report of multiple executions didn't take into account expiration dates of the drugs, which the state wouldn't previously disclose. The AP has requested those expiration dates.

The state also said without explanation that the prison system's "contingency planning" needed to be taken into consideration when looking at how many executions Ohio can carry out.

A state law and court rulings allow Ohio to shield most information about its drugs, including their manufacturers and how the state obtained them.

Ohio plans to put condemned child killer Ronald Phillips to death next month using the new three-drug method. Lawyers for Phillips and inmates scheduled to die in March and April are challenging the method and, in particular, the first drug, a sedative used in disputed executions in Arizona and Ohio in 2014.

Attorneys argue the sedative, midazolam, won't render inmates fully unconscious and will put them at risk of experiencing severe pain and suffering.

The state says the new method is similar to one Ohio used previously to execute several inmates. The state also says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in a case out of Oklahoma allows the use of midazolam.

Merz is expected to rule soon on the competing claims.