LEWISTON, Idaho (CN) – The Associated Press and major Idaho newspapers sued Gov. Butch Otter in Federal Court, demanding “uninhibited” access to report on executions.
The Idaho Statesman, The Idaho Press Club, Pioneer Newspapers and others joined as plaintiffs against the governor and the state’s Board and Department of Correction.
Idaho prohibits the public, including the media, from seeing what happens before the lethal injection, which is typically administered in a three-step process: a barbiturate to put the prisoner to sleep, a paralytic to stop his breathing and potassium to stop his heart.
“Witnesses are not allowed to view initial entry into the execution chamber, the connection of an electrocardiogram to the condemned inmate, restraint of the condemned inmate, insertion of catheters of various locations on the body of the condemned inmate or the final attachment of intravenous lines,” the complaint states. Only after these processes have taken place are window coverings removed and witnesses allowed into the viewing area.
Idaho had not executed anyone in 17 years until it killed Paul Ezra Rhoades on Nov. 18, 2011, for the murder of three people in 1987. That was the first involuntary execution in Idaho since 1957.
“The last inmate to be executed gave up all of his remaining appeals and asked the state to carry out his lethal injection,” The Associated Press reported after Rhoades’ execution, at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.
Members of the media sent an email to Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke three before Rhoades was executed, citing 9th Circuit ruling in a California case, permanently enjoining prison officials from preventing uninterrupted viewing of executions from the moment the condemned entered the execution chamber through the time the condemned was declared dead.
Reinke responded through his spokesman Jeff Ray, who said, “The procedures were developed so that we would preserve the dignity of the offender. After discussing the matter with Director Reinke and legal counsel, we have chosen to follow the procedures as they are written.”
In response to a second letter from the media, Reinke said in an email that changing the procedure would be “disruptive.”
“Among other things,” he wrote, “it could compromise the anonymity of members of IDOC’s execution team.” He claims that the 9th Circuit ruling was “based on facts unique to California.”
But the media says in its complaint: “The execution of an individual by a state authority is the ultimate and absolute expression of governmental power in civilized society. Questions regarding the propriety of capital punishment remain for others to answer at a different time and date, but access to the execution process by both the public and the press is guaranteed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The media seek a permanent injunction “requiring all phases of the execution process, beginning with the condemned inmate’s procession into the execution chamber, the restraining of the condemned inmate on the execution table, the connection of medical monitoring devices, the insertion of catheters, and the attachment of IV lines, and all incidental treatment of the condemned inmate be conducted in full and open view of the assembled witnesses to that execution.”
They are represented by Charles Brown.