May 15, 2014

Associated Press | The Guardian | The Kansas City Star

The Associated Press and The Guardian U.S., have joined three Missouri newspapers in a lawsuit filed Thursday against the Missouri Department of Corrections, the AP reported in a media advisory.

The St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch, The Kansas City (Missouri) Star and the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader joined the suit. In a separate suit, St. Louis Public Radio’s Chris McDaniel also filed along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, according to a story Thursday by the AP and Margaret Wolf Freivogel (who was my former boss at the St. Louis Beacon.)

Tony Rizzo wrote about the case for the Star on Thursday.

The suit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City, alleges that the corrections department is violating the Missouri Sunshine Law by denying repeated requests for information about the “composition, concentration, source and quality of drugs used to execute inmates in Missouri.”

By withholding access to information that historically has been publicly available, the department also is violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, according to the suit.

From the lawsuit:

Plaintiffs now bring this action to challenge DOC’s reinterpretation of the State’s “execution team” as including its drug supplier, and to compel DOC to disclose this information to the press and public. DOC’s refusal to disclose critical information as to the nature and source of the drugs used violates both Chapter 610 of the Missouri Revised Statutes (the “Sunshine Law”) and the qualified right of access to government proceedings and records guaranteed to the public by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Jim Salter wrote about the case for the Associated Press.

The lawsuit asks a state court judge to order the Missouri Department of Corrections to disclose where it purchases drugs used to carry out executions along with details about the composition and quality of those drugs.

“We assert that there is a constitutional right for the public to know the drugs that are used when a state puts someone to death,” said Dave Schulz, an attorney for the news organizations and co-director of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School.

Until last year, Missouri didn’t hide where the drugs for lethal injections came from, Ed Pilkington and Jon Swaine reported Thursday in The Guardian.

But like many death penalty states, its drug supplies have dwindled as a result of a European-led pharmaceutical boycott, and in a desperate move to try to find new suppliers it has shrouded their identity in secrecy.

In October, the state changed its so-called “black hood law” that had historically been used to guard the identity of those directly involved in the death process. The department of corrections expanded the definition of its execution team to include pharmacies and “individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure”.

According to Salter’s story, the next execution is scheduled for Wednesday, “when Russell Bucklew is set to die for killing a romantic rival as part of a crime spree in southeast Missouri in 1996.”

The suit filed by St. Louis Public Radio “challenges the state’s refusal to disclose information and documents relating to executions,” Freivogel wrote.

McDaniel, along with Veronique LaCapra, has reported extensively on Missouri’s lethal injection process and disclosed the previous supplier of the drug to the state. He has numerous Sunshine Law requests pending to gain more information.

In April, Poynter wrote about a botched execution in Oklahoma, which reporter Graham Lee Brewer covered for The (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) Oklahoman. Brewer was in the viewing room when officials closed the curtain on the execution as Clayton Derrell Lockett started kicking.

“It’s just problematic to me mainly that you really have to fight for transparency,” Brewer told Poynter in April. “Obviously it was perfectly legal for them to close the curtain and not let us see Lockett’s final moments, but in my mind, that kind of defeats the whole purpose of us being there.”

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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