Appeals court tosses death-row inmates' lawsuit over Ohio's execution-secrecy law

From The Plain Dealer Three Ohio death-row inmates facing execution within the next year lost their appeal Wednesday for a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Ohio's execution secrecy law.

Inmates Ronald Phillips, Raymond Tibbetts and Robert Van Hook argued that the law, which shields the identities of most participants in Ohio's execution process, violates their First Amendment and other constitutional rights.

A federal judge in Columbus dismissed the case in 2015, agreeing with the state's arguments that the rules would not infringe on free speech and that the plaintiffs' case was "based on conjectural or hypothetical" injuries. The majority of a three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court's decision.

The inmates' suit challenged the constitutionality of House Bill 663, signed by Gov. John Kasich in 2014. It says Ohio must keep secret the names of people involved with executions, other than top officials.

It also protects the identity of small-scale drug manufacturers called compounding pharmacies if they make lethal-injection drugs for the state.

The law was passed in the wake of a lethal injection cocktail the state used on Preble County murderer Dennis McGuire in January 2014. Witnesses said he gasped, choked and clenched his fists while taking an unexpectedly long 25 minutes to die.

Proponents of the rules say they are needed to protect people involved in the execution process from harassment and potential harm.

The state will resume executions in January using a new cocktail.

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