Ohio prison officials seek to destroy expired execution drugs amid fears they might be used

In this November 2005 file photo, Larry Greene, public information director of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, demonstrates how a curtain is pulled between the death chamber and witness room at the prison in Lucasville.
In this November 2005 file photo, Larry Greene, public information director of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, demonstrates how a curtain is pulled between the death chamber and witness room at the prison in Lucasville. (AP)
 
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Responding to fears from Ohio death-row inmates that they might be put to death using expired lethal-injection drugs, government lawyers asked a federal court Friday for permission to destroy the drugs.

In a legal brief with the U.S. District Court in Columbus, attorneys with the state and Cuyahoga County stated that they intend to “immediately” remove and dispose of the three drugs — Midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride — kept at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

With the court’s permission, the brief stated that prison pharmacist Richard Theodore would document the removal and disposal of the drugs and provide the documentation to the court and the inmates’ attorneys.

The brief said that state officials wanted to get the court’s approval before disposing of the drugs “given the court’s previous orders concerning preservation of evidence, including preserving execution drugs utilized for executions, and out of an abundance of caution.”

The move comes after lawyers for condemned inmates Cleveland Jackson and Kareem Jackson asked the court for an injunction prohibiting the state from using expired drugs in their executions.

The inmates’ lawyers pointed to a transcript of a deposition by Southern Ohio Correctional Facility Warden Ron Erdos that the state is “permitted to use expired execution drugs’ so long as they are tested for potency.”

Gov. Mike DeWine’s spokesman, Dan Tierney, said at the time that the inmates’ lawyers mischaracterized Erdos’ testimony. Tierney told cleveland.com on Friday that the legal filing was prompted by the governor telling prison officials that, like past governors, DeWine opposes using expired drugs in executions.

Midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride were used in three Ohio executions in 2017 and 2018. However, DeWine postponed all executions in July, citing difficulties obtaining the drugs from pharmaceutical companies that are reluctant to sell the drugs (which have other medical uses) for use in executions.

DeWine also referenced concerns expressed by a federal judge earlier this year that the three-drug cocktail likely causes unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment” by creating a sensation that feels like waterboarding. However, an appeals court ruled earlier this week that the judge erred in that decision.

Cleveland Jackson, convicted of murdering 17-year-old Leneshia Williams and 3-year-old Jayla Grant in Lima during a 2002 apartment robbery, is the next Ohio inmate scheduled to be executed. His execution date has been set for Nov. 13.

Kareem Jackson, who murdered two people execution-style during a 1997 drug robbery in Columbus, is scheduled to be put to death Jan. 26, 2020.
 
 
Jeremy Pelzer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 13, 2019
Ohio prison officials seek to destroy expired execution drugs amid fears they might be used