Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Executions Should Not Take Place in the Shadows, News Outlets Argue

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Executions Should Not Take Place in the Shadows, News Outlets Argue

Article excerpt

OKLAHOMA CITY - Government's exercise of its greatest power - execution - should not be done in the shadows, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Rowland told an Oklahoma City federal judge Thursday.

Rowland was arguing on behalf of the Oklahoma Observer and The Guardian U.S., which are suing the Oklahoma Department of Corrections over modified protocols the news organizations claim violate First Amendment freedom-of-the-press guarantees.

Among the changes, Rowland told U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton, are cutting the number of witnesses, formerly 12, in half, and authorizing the corrections director to remove the press and close off the execution process whenever he or she deems appropriate.

Rowland said the modified procedure effectively operates as a censorship tool and could irreparably harm the ability of the press to observe how government carries out this policy.

The protocols were changed after the April execution of Clayton Lockett, which took about an hour after numerous failed attempts to locate a healthy vein for insertion of an IV line for the lethal injection drugs. The execution team eventually inserted it into Lockett's groin. He was heard to writhe and groan for about 45 minutes. Officials closed the blinds between Lockett and observers after it became clear something had gone wrong.

"The state is choosing only to show the rosiest parts of the procedure," Rowland said of the new protocols. "That is improper."

Subsequently scheduled executions were postponed pending development of a new policy.

Heaton said that, in general, the U.S. Supreme Court has said the press has no right of access to information beyond that of the general public.

Rowland acknowledged that is true, except in situations where there is no adequate alternative public access.

"There are many troubling implications," she said of the new DOC protocol, which she said provides for selective access. …

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