- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - As Ohio sought to justify its reasoning for shielding the names of people or companies providing lethal drugs to the prison system, it paid a security consultant who determined that identifying the suppliers would put them at risk of “harm, violence or unlawful acts of intimidation,” according to newly released documents.

But a pair of attorneys representing a condemned killer says the consultant simply repackaged a similar threat assessment he did for Texas. The security consultant, Lawrence Cunningham, said he couldn’t immediately identify specific threats against anyone in Ohio. But he said threats in other states have come from inmates and their families.

Anti-death penalty advocates have accused Texas and other states of hyping threats to avoid disclosing pharmacies providing lethal drugs.

Ohio has repeatedly delayed executions because it can’t obtain lethal objection drugs. Twenty-five inmates are scheduled to die beginning early next year, but the prison system still doesn’t have the necessary drugs.

Risks identified by Cunningham, a Maryland-based security expert, justify keeping the names of such entities secret, the state argued. Those risks include “harm, violence, or unlawful acts of intimidation, harassment, annoyance, or oppression,” the state said.

“Cunningham has concluded that those risks are substantial and that withholding the identities of these drug makers, compounders, importers, distributors, suppliers or testers from public disclosure is a reasonable and necessary preventative measure,” the state said.

A website that tracks state spending shows the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction paid $4,900 last June to Cunningham’s firm, TorchStone Global. The firm’s December 2014 contract called for up to $15,500, according to a copy of the contract obtained by The Associated Press through a records request.

In his Texas analysis, Cunningham likened the potential danger to “the amount of violence related to and directed at abortion clinics, abortion doctors, and businesses and universities involved in animal research.”

In the case of Ohio, he wrote of “comparable social or political controversies, e.g., abortion, animal research.”

The attorneys fighting the shielding of information in Ohio represent Ronald Phillips, who’s sentenced to die in early 2017 for raping and killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter in 1993. Phillips is the first inmate scheduled to die under a revised execution schedule.

Cunningham said the Ohio assessment contains similarities to his analysis for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all review. He likened the risks to drug companies to those faced by abortion clinics and abortion providers, which have included bombings and fatal shootings.

The lethal drug issue “has a very similar background and a similar parallel that could be seen in this over time,” Cunningham told the AP. He said drug providers aren’t prepared for the attacks that could accompany the names becoming public.

“The people in that business don’t have the normal infrastructure or personnel or resources to protect against these kinds of things,” he said.

Two years ago in Texas, law enforcement officials refused to say what threats were behind a key letter that led the state attorney general to reverse his long-held position that the identity of Texas’ execution drug provider should be made public.

Last month in Ohio, federal Judge Gregory Frost unsealed Cunningham’s threat assessment along with arguments by the state and defense attorneys fighting over the shielding of information. None of the documents identify drug providers.

Frost said state lawyers hadn’t submitted anything to explain “how any of the documents involved could actually lead to the parade of horribles they invoke.”

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins


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