Editorial: Ohio's death-penalty secrecy is wrong and must not be allowed to take effect

Editorial from The Plain Dealer Condemned murderer Charles Warner went to his death in Oklahoma earlier this month, but not before telling witnesses to his execution what he was feeling.

"My body is on fire," he said, although witnesses reported no signs of obvious distress.

Warner was given a three-drug cocktail that killed him in about 18 minutes. The second drug administered was a paralytic, which could have prevented Warner from expressing the true extent of the pain he may have felt, claimed his lawyer.

Nobody knows for sure and Warner is dead, so we can't ask him.

Ohio has jettisoned a similar multidrug cocktail, last used to kill Dennis McGuire about a year ago in a prolonged procedure that Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr insists did not cause McGuire to suffer, although others disagree.

Ohio now plans to return to an old method -- a one-drug protocol, either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental, drugs the state previously used until their manufacturers declined to continue providing them for executions -- but with a significant difference: The drugs will be concocted per largely secret deals by compounding pharmacies not subject to the same oversight as regular drug manufacturers.

The General Assembly passed an ill-advised law at the end of last year that allows the pharmacies to remain anonymous for 20 years after they stop doing business with the state, and the names of others involved in the process, such as doctors, to remain confidential forever even though the law has a two-year sunset provision.

Such a law is repugnant and wrong. U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost should grant a recent request by four condemned Ohio inmates to prevent the law from going into effect in March, pending a final ruling on their lawyers' challenge to the law's constitutionality.

There is no reason -- and much peril -- in trying to shield those who prepare death-penalty drugs from scrutiny. The drugs are being paid for with taxpayer funds -- meaning those contracts should be open to public review. Nor should the state try to shield medical personnel from professional sanctions in this manner. 

This editorial board has long opposed the death penalty on moral, practical and fairness grounds. If secrecy is the only way the state believes it can carry out the death penalty, then surely it is time to eliminate the death penalty altogether.