At least three horrifically botched executions last year – in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Arizona – heightened public alarm and revulsion at the risk of cruel and unusual methods of capital punishment. Short of abolishing the death penalty, the solution for states is to seek and ensure more humane methods. Instead, some are taking a sneakier, and constitutionally more suspect, route: dropping a veil of secrecy over executions.
The most recent example, and one of the most obnoxious, is legislation passed in a lame-duck session of Ohio’s legislature last month following the shockingly bungled execution a year ago of Dennis McGuire, a convicted murderer who choked, gasped and writhed for 26 minutes before succumbing.
The law, signed just before Christmas by (Republican) Gov. John Kasich, offers anonymity to compounding pharmacies that agree to manufacture the drugs used in state executions, as well as to others involved in carrying out executions. The bill would shield the identity of and public records pertaining to other medical and non-medical personnel who furnish supplies or administer the drugs used in executions.
More than a dozen states have adopted similar laws and policies, and others are considering measures that are wildly overbroad.
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A notable case is Virginia, where (Democratic) Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration has submitted a bill to the legislature that goes well beyond the Ohio law. The legislation ... would make practically everything about executions in Virginia a state secret – even the building in which they take place.
Taxpayers who provide the funds that pay for the drugs used in lethal injections deserve to know when mishaps occur. The fact that such mishaps might arouse public disgust does not justify granting anonymity to drug companies that enter into government contracts.