COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The names of companies that provide Ohio with lethal injection drugs would be shielded under a proposal the state House is poised to vote on Wednesday.
Some lawmakers have said the bill is needed to restart executions in the state. But prosecutors who want a condemned child killer executed in February say the legislation will undoubtedly lead to court challenges, and they're confident the procedure won't happen as scheduled.
The bill is among several the House planned to vote on as lawmakers finish work for the two-year legislative session.
The Senate passed the lethal injection drug bill last week. If the House approves it, the measure would go to Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Shielding the names of companies that provide lethal injection drugs is necessary to obtain supplies of the drugs by protecting drugmakers from harassment, according to bill supporters.
Problems finding supplies of lethal drugs have created a de facto moratorium on executions in Ohio, which a decade ago was one of the country's busiest death penalty states.
Ohio executed just one inmate this year: Dennis McGuire, who snorted and gasped during much of the 26-minute procedure using a two-drug combo never tried before. Concerns about that execution led to delays of other executions.
Opponents of the lethal injection bill say concerns about harassment are overblown and it's naive to think the bill can truly protect companies' names from being revealed.
The anonymity for companies — which would last 20 years — was requested by lawmakers after prosecutors said executions wouldn't happen in Ohio without such protection. It's aimed at compounding pharmacies that mix doses of specialty drugs.
Ohio's first choice of an execution drug is compounded pentobarbital — used frequently in Texas and Missouri — but the state has been unable to obtain it. Its second choice — simultaneous doses of midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller — led to McGuire's prolonged execution and a nearly two-hour-long execution in Arizona in July.
In addition, the bill creates a committee to study "the manner and means" of how executions are carried out. At issue is whether other methods already ruled constitutional — such as the electric chair — should be considered. The state abolished electrocution as an option more than a decade ago.
The bill also shields the names of participants in Ohio executions.
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's port city is getting ready for its seventh Moon Pie over Mobile celebration on New Year's Eve.
Officials say entertainment at the outdoor celebration will include the Village People and Evelyn "Champagne" King. The start of the new year will be celebrated by a 12-foot-tall Moon Pie descending from the 34-story RSA Trustmark Building.
The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with the opening of a resolution wall. The music starts at 7 p.m.
Mobile isn't the only Alabama city planning an outdoor celebration for New Year's Eve. Montgomery officials say the city will have live music, fireworks and confetti in the entertainment district downtown.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The tempestuous 113th Congress has limped out of Washington for the last time, capping two years of modest and infrequent legislating that was overshadowed by partisan clashes, gridlock and investigations.
The U.S. military is testing a new cruise-missile defense system by launching a blimp-like airship at Aberdeen Proving Ground near Baltimore.
Reporters in the region are getting their first look Wednesday at JLENS, short for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System.
When fully deployed this winter, the system will feature two unmanned, helium-filled aerostats, tethered to concrete pads four miles apart. They'll float at an altitude of 10,000 feet in a planned, three-year test. One will use radar to continuously scan in a 340-mile radius, roughly from Norfolk, Virginia, to upstate New York. The other will carry precision radar enabling controllers on the ground to pinpoint targets.
The aerostats won't carry weapons, military officials say. Enemy missiles would be destroyed by ground- or ship-based weapons.
"The point of this exercise is to test how well it would integrate with existing systems to do cruise missile defense around the national capital region," said Air Force Maj. Beth Smith of the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
JLENS, built by Raytheon Co., has cost the government about $2.8 billion so far. Congress approved another $43.3 million last week for the first year of the test.
Proponents say JLENS will save money in the long run by reducing the need for surveillance by conventional aircraft.
"The analysis we've done says it's about five to seven times less than operating a fleet of aircraft to cover the same area over the same time period," said Douglas Burgess, Raytheon's JLENS program director.
The fat, white balloons, each 80 yards long, are part of a new wave of lighter-than-air surveillance vehicles. The government also has deployed tethered airships near the Mexican border, in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the Caribbean Ocean to combat drug smuggling.
JLENS pairs two aerostats in a single "orbit." A second orbit is being held in reserve at the Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City.
The airships at Aberdeen will be the first of their type near major East Coast cities, visible to large numbers of people in the Interstate 95 corridor.
The military says the balloons also won't carry cameras but privacy advocates are leery of their ability to constantly monitor moving objects, including cars on the ground.
"It's that persistent surveillance that raises all the privacy concerns," said David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's important to remember that Maryland is not the battlefield and we are not the enemy."
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Alan Gross has called himself a "trusting fool" for going to Cuba in the first place. Family and friends described him with other words: gregarious and outgoing, with a talent for picking up and playing any musical instrument.
Gross, 65, was freed from prison Wednesday as part of an agreement that included the release of three Cubans jailed in the United States, officials said.
His wife, Judy Gross, has called him a humanitarian and an idealist, someone who was "probably naïve" and did not realize the risks of going to Cuba as a subcontractor for the federal government's U.S. Agency for International Development.
Gross was arrested in 2009 while working in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access for the island's small Jewish community, access that bypassed local restrictions and monitoring. Cuba considers USAID's programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government. Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In court in Cuba, Gross called himself a "trusting fool" who never meant any harm to the Cuban government. But reports he wrote about his work showed he knew it was dangerous.
"This is very risky business in no uncertain terms," he wrote in one report. A 2012 investigation by The Associated Press found he was using sensitive technology typically available only to governments.
During the five years he was imprisoned, family members said, Gross never grew angry at the Cuban people. He watched Cuban baseball and even jammed with his jailors on a stringed instrument they gave him. He kept in touch with family through weekly phone calls and passed the time reading books and magazines sent by his wife. The Economist, The Atlantic and Washingtonian were favorites.
On Friday nights, Gross, who is Jewish, would take out a picture of a group of friends celebrating the Jewish sabbath, and he would say the prayers they would say together.
But prison was tough on Gross. While in Cuban custody, he lost more than 100 pounds, developed problems with his hips and lost most of the vision in his right eye. In April 2014, after an AP story revealed that USAID secretly created a "Cuban Twitter" communications network to stir unrest on the island shortly after Gross was arrested, he went on a hunger strike for more than a week.
His mother, who was in her 90s, convinced him to start eating again. But she died in June 2014. Despite pleas from his family, Gross was not allowed to return to the United States for her funeral. After her death, he became withdrawn.
His wife and youngest of two daughters visited him in prison earlier in the year and he said goodbye.
"Life in prison is not a life worth living," he told his lawyer, Scott Gilbert.
He vowed that his 65th birthday, which took place in May, would be the last one he celebrated in Havana, "one way or the other."
Earlier, he had dreamed of getting out and planned what he would do.
His older sister, Bonnie Rubenstein, said in 2012 that he wanted to watch a Cuban baseball game as a free man. He also wanted to eat ribs and drink scotch when he got out of prison.
His brother-in-law, Rubenstein's husband, even purchased a 12-year-old single-malt scotch he planned to save until his brother-in-law got home.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the family said Gross and his wife walked hand-in-hand onto a military plane for the trip home. Onboard were bowls of popcorn, another thing he had missed, and a corned beef sandwich on rye. When the pilot announced they were leaving Cuban airspace, Gross stood up and took a deep breath.
His first telephone calls were two his two daughters.