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Media Cleared to Watch Lethal Injections in Arizona

A federal judge has ruled that Arizona must allow journalists and witnesses to view the administration of lethal injections to death row inmates during executions.

PHOENIX (CN) – A federal judge has ruled that Arizona must allow journalists and witnesses to view the administration of lethal injections to death row inmates during executions.

The decision comes in a 2014 lawsuit filed by a coalition of news outlets over the state's refusal to provide information to the public on the drugs used in executions.

The Guardian, the Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Star and two Phoenix news stations sued the state after the execution of Joseph Wood.

It took nearly two hours for Wood, a convicted killer, to die after he was given midazolam and hydromorphone on July 23, 2014.

Witnesses viewed Wood gasping and snorting during his death, but did not see the actual administration of the drugs. State protocol allows witnesses to see and hear the insertion of IV lines over a closed-circuit television, but after the lines are placed the television is turned off and viewers can only see the inmate in the execution chamber from a distance.

After Wood’s death, the Guardian and the AP requested the "source, composition, and quality" of the drugs used in his execution, but the Arizona Department of Corrections refused to disclose the information.

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow ruled last week that the press and the public have a First Amendment right to view the executions in their totality.

"Defendant’s assertion that 'physical and logistical difficulties exist, given that the drugs are administered into the IV lines in a separate room,' carries no weight in the absence of any indication of what those difficulties might be, particularly since closed-circuit televisions are already used to allow witnesses to view the insertion of the IV lines," Snow found.

The state had also argued that it sought to protect the privacy of the personnel in the room where the drugs are administered, but Snow shot down those concerns.

"If ADC can maintain the anonymity of its personnel while focusing a camera on the IV placement site, there is no reason it cannot likewise focus a camera on the area in the chemical room in which syringes are injected into the IV line," Snow wrote.

Snow did not immediately find for the news outlets on their claim that they have a First Amendment right to know where the execution drugs came from, however.

"At this point, there has been neither evidence nor argument respecting a demand or need for information about the quality and source of noncompounded drugs," Snow found. "It would be, at best, premature for the court to rule that the state policy in this respect is unconstitutional."

Last week, the state agreed to stop using midazolam following Wood's prolonged execution. The settlement came months after the state announced that it would eliminate the use of the sedative because its supply expired and it could not find another supplier.

An attorney for the news outlets and the Arizona Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Follow @jamierossCNS
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