Allowing witnesses to view the full process of a state execution could identify or stress the members of the execution team, Idaho prison officials argued in legal filings late Tuesday. The Associated Press and 16 other news organizations say reporters — and by extension the public — should view all phases of the execution to accurately report the events or any complications that emerge. Idaho officials spelled out their legal defense in advance of court-ordered mediation, which begins Thursday under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Candy Dale; click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.
State: Privacy of executioners trumps media access
By TODD DVORAK, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho prison officials said their efforts to protect the identity of execution team members and the privacy of the condemned inmate outweigh any reason to allow witnesses to view lethal injections from start to finish.
Officials defended the policy in a court filing late Tuesday, responding to a federal lawsuit filed this month by more than a dozen Idaho news groups challenging the limitations on viewing executions.
Like most states with lethal injection, Idaho pulls the curtain back during the first few steps of an execution, including the insertion of IV needles into the condemned inmate.
The Associated Press and 16 other news organizations say reporters — and by extension the public — should view all phases of the execution to accurately report the events or any complications that emerge.
Prison officials say expanding access simply invites too many risks.
Even if executioners are covered in surgical gear and masks, a chance remains they could be identified, making it even more difficult to recruit and retain team members, according to the brief.
The state Department of Correction also has an interest in "shielding the medical team from possible anxiety and stress of performing an ordinary medical procedure before an audience knowing that a delay or mishap will be reported," Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore wrote.
The chance of complications arising is a primary reason the news groups are pressing for expanded access, arguing the First Amendment gives media and the public the right to view executions in their entirety.
In recent years, several high-profile cases have raised questions about how states conduct lethal injections, including two cases in Ohio — a state that allows full access — when execution staff couldn't immediately find the inmate's vein. In one of those cases, officials halted the execution and the inmate remains on death row.
The lawsuit filed by the news groups relies heavily on a 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ruling on a 2002 California case. The court rejected the state's argument that allowing witnesses throughout the execution would compromise efforts to keep secret the identity of the execution team.
"Independent public scrutiny — made possible by the public and media witnesses to an execution — plays a significant role in the proper functioning of capital punishment," the judges ruled.
Idaho officials spelled out their legal defense in advance of court-ordered mediation, which begins Thursday under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Candy Dale.
The legal challenge also comes weeks before the June 12 execution of Richard Leavitt, who was convicted of the 1984 stabbing murder of Blackfoot resident Danette Elg.
The state also argues there are other reasons for limiting access, including shielding family and friends of the condemned inmate from any public suffering that might occur during a delay and preserving the dignity and privacy of the inmate.
The organizations joining the AP include The Idaho Statesman, Boise Weekly, Lewiston Tribune, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, The Idaho Press Club, Idahoans for Openess in Government, The Times-News, Spokesman-Review and the Pioneer Newspaper group, including The Idaho Press-Tribune and Idaho State Journal.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.