A federal judge who has skewered Ohio over the way it carries out executions heaped unusually warm praise on the system and the state prisons director in a recent ruling.
The comments by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost raise the possibility that successful challenges focusing on the process of putting inmates to death in the state could be coming to an end.
The opinion is quite long but worth reading for anyone involved in this type of litigation. Frost recounts his earlier criticisms of the state officials, but he hammers the inmate's lawyers as well for playing games:
Second, counsel hopes to gain a strategic advantage by playing hide the ball. Defendants' [the corrections officials'] counsel was frustrated by an inability to prepare for the specific arguments and evidence that Plaintiff would present at the hearing. Setting aside that Defendants could have sought discovery on these issues, the point here is that Hartman's actions were designed to keep his opponents in the dark until he could turn over his cards only at a time when it might be too late for Defendants to respond effectively. Hartman thus again sought to benefit from being obtuse by gaining a litigation advantage, making hearing preparation more difficult for Defendants and preventing them from fixing any constitutional problems he could have identified in the briefing by the time of the hearing. This Court is interested in getting to the merits of the issues involved, not in playing games.
Now that the single-drug method has eliminated the risk that was the main issue in Baze, murderers seeking to avoid execution claim an equal protection violation for any variation in the protocol. This is the so-called "class of one" claim. The Ninth Circuit dealt with that in the Towery case. (See prior post.) Frost deals with it at length in this opinion.
Update: Welsh-Huggins has this story for AP on the completed execution. "The Ohio Parole Board had unanimously denied Hartman's requests for clemency three times, citing the brutality of the Snipes' slaying and the 'overwhelming evidence' of Hartman's guilt." The US Supreme Court stay denials are here, here, and here. No dissent is noted.