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Secrecy in death penalty is only option legislators see

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I wrote about H.B. 663 just two months ago, but this bill deserves additional attention, because it was passed by the Ohio House and is now before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Referred to by its opponents as the “Execution Secrecy Bill,” H.B. 663 was introduced because the state is having difficulty acquiring the lethal drugs needed to execute Death Row inmates by injection. The bill would provide immunity from ethics proceedings to physicians who participate in executions and would make confidential the identities of the compounding pharmacies that will produce the drugs.

No one testified in favor of the bill at its first hearing before the Senate committee last Tuesday. The Ohio Newspaper Association opposes the bill because it “will make it harder for citizens to hold government accountable for its actions.”  The Society of Professional Journalists criticizes the bill for its secrecy, as does every major newspaper in the state: The Columbus Dispatch,  Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon-Journal, Lima News and Toledo Blade.  The Ohio State Medical Association opposes the bill because it would exempt its members from disciplinary proceedings for participating in executions.

With no apparent support for the bill, why is the General Assembly pushing it? Because the legislators are stuck, and they’re stuck because they have only bad choices—if they want to preserve the death penalty. Legislators want to keep the death penalty, but the drug manufacturers will no longer sell their drugs for use in executions.  If lethal injection is the only means by which we can execute an offender, then the state has to obtain the drugs through the compounding pharmacies, but they supposedly want anonymity in exchange for manufacturing and selling the drugs.

The only way to solve the problem—as the legislators see it—is to provide the compounding pharmacies with confidentiality. Down deep, the legislators have to know that secrecy in government is a bad thing, but they don’t see any other option.

The reality is, there’s another way: reinstate the electric chair or use firing squads or nooses. There would be nothing confidential about these types of executions, except for the identities of the executioners, and they’re already afforded confidentiality for good reason.  But this option is repugnant because the electric chair, firing squads and gallows don’t provide the same type of clean, clinical execution that lethal injection does. These are messy ways to kill people.

And so it is that the legislature is stuck with a Hobson’s Choice, and House Speaker Bill Batchelder, R-Medina,  found himself saying, “This is something that we cannot leave in abeyance, otherwise we’re going to have people who pass away prior to execution.”  We can have executions where the offender appears to fall asleep in a process guarded in secrecy, or we can have executions that are out in the open.  But to choose this second option means the offender will either shudder and shake as electricity courses through his body, or he will be forced to stand before a wall and be shot, or he will fall from a trap door, and his neck will be snapped.

There’s an irony here, and it’s made possible by State Treasurer Josh Mandel who announced last week what he calls OhioCheckbook.com, which will allow anyone to see how the state spends its revenue. Want to see where our money goes?  No problem.  Just go to the website.

What to know more about the compounding pharmacies that produce the lethal drugs used in executions?  Oh, sorry, we won’t be able to talk about that.

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Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com

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Discussion

  1. Jim Crowley  December 8, 2014

    Jack, firing squads would also confront the cruelty of weapon-caused death. So, as a target shooter, I’m in favor of a no-nonsense portrayal of guns. It also affords some plausible deniability if x number of shooters have blanks. Now, would it pass muster?

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    • Jack D'Aurora  December 8, 2014

      It’s interesting that you ask about whether a firing squad would violate the cruel and unusual provision of the Eighth Amendment. Intuitively, I don’t think it would, but more importantly, I just learned from Senator William Seitz, R-Cincinnati, that the Senate is considering an amendment that would eliminate the confidentiality issue by giving the offender a choice: death by lethal injection under the provisions of HB 663 or death by another means of execution that has not been deemed to constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

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  2. Rick Studer  December 9, 2014

    I think the obvious answer is bagging the DP altogether. Surprised you didn’t go there.

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    • Jack D'Aurora  December 9, 2014

      The reason I didn’t suggest bagging the death penalty is because I was focusing on the confidentiality issue. While I believe the death penalty is a profound waste of time and money, this isn’t the appropriate time to make that argument.

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  3. Jack D'Aurora  December 9, 2014

    The reason I didn’t suggest bagging the death penalty is because I was focusing on the confidentiality issue. While I believe the death penalty is a profound waste of time and money, this isn’t the appropriate time to make that argument.

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