Jan 22, 12:55 PM EST

Ohio wants inmates' lethal injection lawsuit thrown out

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A new state law that shields the names of companies providing lethal injection drugs is not a free speech violation, attorneys for the Ohio prisons agency argue as they ask a federal judge to dismiss a challenge of the law by four death row inmates.

Nothing in the law that takes effect in March infringes on prisoners' First Amendment rights or affects their ability to argue issues in court, according to a court filing by the Ohio Attorney General's Office.

Mandates in the law limit the information the state will provide the public, including the inmates, according to the attorneys representing the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

"Refraining from providing information is an entirely different enquiry than suppression of a person's speech," the attorneys said in Tuesday's filing.

Inmates also allege the restrictions treat them differently than other groups, arguing that state lethal injection expert witnesses could have their identity shielded under the law, while defense witnesses wouldn't get the same protection. The state disputes the unequal treatment allegation.

"Proponents of the death penalty have no greater access to the information than the opponents," the state attorneys said.

Supporters of the new law say shielding the names of companies that provide lethal injection drugs is necessary to protect drugmakers from harassment and ensure the state gets supplies of the drugs.

Ohio executions have been on hold since a troubling 26-minute execution a year ago during which a prisoner getting a first-ever two-drug combo repeatedly gasped and snorted.

The state has ditched that two-drug method and said it will use one of two different anesthetics in the future, neither of which it has on hand and both of which may be hard to find.

Attorneys for the inmates say there is no evidence whatsoever of companies being harassed.

The lawsuit was filed in December on behalf of Ohio death row prisoners Ronald Phillips, Raymond Tibbetts, Robert Van Hook and Grady Brinkley.

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