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State to open all of execution process to witnesses

Thu., Jan. 30, 2014

OLYMPIA – Washington state will allow witnesses to executions to see the entire process, including the insertion of intravenous catheters during a lethal injection, state officials told the Associated Press.

The new witness protocol, currently a draft that is in its final stages of approval, includes the use of television monitors to show the inmate entering the death chamber and being strapped down, as well as the insertion of the IVs, which had both previously been shielded from public view. The new technology has already been installed, and officials say the protocol will be finalized within the next week.

Through public disclosure requests, the AP had sought information about any potential changes to execution protocols. State corrections officials spoke with the AP about the new procedures this week. The change is in response to a 2012 federal appeals court ruling that said all parts of an execution must be fully open to public witnesses. That ruling was sparked by a case brought by the AP and other news organizations, including The Spokesman-Review, who challenged Idaho’s policy to shield the insertion of IV catheters from public view, in spite of a 2002 ruling from the same court that said every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses.

“We have been working on this for many, many months,” Dan Pacholke, assistant secretary of the prisons division at the state Department of Corrections, said Wednesday.

Pacholke said the department has been researching the technology needed to make the change and followed the process currently used by Arizona, which provides an overhead view via TV monitor of the IV insertion during an execution.

“It really does provide greater viewing capacity to the witnesses,” he said.

Under the draft proposal, which is currently under final review within the Department of Corrections, witnesses will watch the inmate enter via monitors from behind a closed curtain to the death chamber, according to Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner. The curtain will be lifted after the inmate is strapped down, and the inmate will be given an opportunity to make a final statement. The curtain will close again, and the insertion of the IVs will be done via TV monitor. The curtain will rise again after the needle has been inserted.

The San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals originally ruled in 2002 on witness viewing during an execution; that ruling applied to the nine Western states in the court’s jurisdiction. But until the 2012 ruling, four states initially kept part of subsequent executions away from public view: Arizona, Idaho, Washington and Montana.

Arizona and Idaho changed their procedures as a result of the 2012 ruling that same year. Idaho witnesses now see the inmate strapped to the table and the insertion of the IVs through a window.


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