On Monday, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit along with The Guardian U.S. and The Oklahoma Observer, according to a press release, “seeking to stop Oklahoma prison officials from selectively filtering what journalists can see during an execution.” The lawsuit, which ACLU of Oklahoma also joined, has been filed against the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in response to the April execution of Clayton Lockett.
“The state of Oklahoma violated the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of the press to witness executions so the public can be informed about the government’s actions and hold it accountable,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Lee Rowland. “The death penalty represents the most powerful exercise of government authority. The need for public oversight is as critical at the execution stage as it is during trial.”
On April 30, Graham Lee Brewer, a reporter with The (Oklahoma City, Okla.) Oklahoman, spoke with Poynter about witnessing parts of the execution.
Brewer was one of 12 local reporters present Tuesday night at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to witness the execution of Lockett in what was supposed to be the state’s first double execution in more than 75 years. It was also the first time using a new lethal drug combination. If Brewer had actually seen Lockett die, it would have been the second execution he’d witnessed.
But he did not. And, he said in a phone interview with Poynter, the murky story of Lockett’s death raises another issue.
“It’s just problematic to me mainly that you really have to fight for transparency.”
The lawsuit, according to the press release, “demands that reporters and other witnesses be permitted to view the execution, without interruption, from the time the condemned prisoner enters the execution chamber until he or she leaves it.”
Ed Pilkington wrote about the lawsuit for The Guardian.
Were the ACLU lawsuit to succeed, Oklahoma would be obliged to allow reporters to witness the entire execution process beginning with the entry of the condemned prisoner into the death chamber and including the insertion of intravenous lines into his veins. Officials would also be prohibited from preventing witnesses from seeing the prisoner at any stage up to the moment when the prisoner is declared dead or the execution stopped.