ACLU Demands Info on Execution Witnesses

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - The American Civil Liberties Union has filed another lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections, seeking information on state-selected execution witnesses.
     The ACLU and two people sued the Missouri DOC on Tuesday in Cole County Court. It is the sixth lawsuit ACLU has filed against the Missouri DOC, involving the state's execution protocol.
     "Troubled by the secrecy surrounding Missouri's execution process and Missouri's use of execution witnesses to vouch for its narrative that those killed by the state do not suffer, plaintiffs began investigating the process by which such witnesses are selected," the complaint states.
     The ACLU says it submitted a written request for public records on May 2 to the Missouri DOC's Custodian of Records. It sought records identifying invitees of the DOC to witness scheduled executions in the past 12 months; the records of the responses from those invitees; all records of requests by the public or the media to witness executions in the past 12 months; all records of consideration of those requests; and all records of actual witnesses to executions in the past 12 months.
     "So far, all we have received are a handful of heavily censored documents," said ACLU legal director for Missouri Tony Rothert said in a statement.
     "We want to know if the Missouri Department of Corrections is selecting witnesses in an impartial manner, which is questionable, given that potential candidates are first asked their position on the death penalty."
     The ACLU claims the state's response was not a full and complete response to its Sunshine Law request.
     It asks the court to declare the records public under the Sunshine Law, order the DOC to produce them, and assess civil penalties for Sunshine Law violations.
     "Witnesses are the eyes of the public and they ensure that those executed do not suffer when the state metes out the ultimate punishment in our name," ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey A. Mittman said in a statement.
     Mittman, one of the individual plaintiffs, added: "We need to be able to trust that our witnesses will give us a fair and unbiased account."
     Missouri has carried out nine executions, averaging about one a month, since switching to a single-dose execution protocol of pentobarbital last year.
     The ACLU, along with numerous news organizations, have tried to force the state to reveal more of its execution protocol, including the compounding pharmacy that supplies the drug. Missouri has successfully argued that the pharmacy is part of its execution team and is therefore entitled to anonymity.
     Missouri's next execution, of Leon Taylor, is scheduled for Sept. 10. Taylor was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of a service station attendant in Independence.