Idaho, media settle execution lawsuit

TUESDAY, JULY 10, 2012

State will pay attorney fees, ensure access to all phases

BOISE – Idaho has agreed to pay more than $29,000 to cover attorney fees and costs incurred by a group of media outlets that challenged the state’s policy of prohibiting witnesses from viewing certain portions of the prisoner execution process.

The state, in a stipulation filed Monday in U.S. District Court, also has agreed that all phases of prisoner executions in Idaho, from start to finish, be open to media and other selected witnesses.

The lawsuit was brought by 16 Idaho news outlets and organizations and was led by the Associated Press. It included the Idaho Press Club and The Spokesman-Review. The media groups charged that the state’s rules, which prohibited witnesses from viewing the early portions of lethal injection executions, violated the First Amendment, as detailed in a 2002 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The court agreed.

Subsequently, convicted killer Richard Leavitt was executed on June 12 as scheduled, and the state allowed witnesses to view the full process, rather than waiting to open a curtain until after IV lines had been inserted to administer the fatal drugs, as had been done in the November execution of Paul Rhoades.

“The resolution of this issue is an important step for Idaho,” said Spokesman-Review Editor Gary Graham. “Idaho residents and all interested parties deserved assurances that executions are carried out in the manner and detail required by law.”

Idaho was among four states in the 9th Circuit region that hadn’t been complying with a 2002 decision that specifically required witness access to lethal injection executions from the start to finish of the process. The court had ruled that the First Amendment requires that representatives of the public be able to view executions in their entirety. The other three states were Washington, Montana and Arizona.

However, Arizona announced last month that it was changing its procedures to allow witnesses to view the insertion of IVs via closed-circuit TV.

Washington still hasn’t changed its execution procedures.

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