Lawsuit Filed To Allow Media To Witness Entire Executions

Monday, August 25th 2014, 7:35 pm
By: News 9

Oklahoma Corrections officials are being sued for violating the constitution in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

Two newspapers, the Oklahoma Observer and The Guardian U.S., filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court today, naming the DOC Director Robert Patton and the warden of the state penitentiary, Anita Trammell, as defendants.

The suit alleges, in the execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014, the plaintiffs -- and the news media as a whole -- were prevented from witnessing the entire process, as is provided for in both the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions.

Specifically, the suit points to the fact that the shade between the viewing room and the execution chamber was not opened until 6:23 p.m., more than an hour after Lockett had been brought into the chamber. According to the post-incident report provided by the Department of Corrections, it was during that period that a phlebotomist struggled to insert the IV that would deliver the lethal drugs to Lockett.

"By preventing witnesses from gaining access to the lethal injection proceeding until after the condemned has been fully prepared for the provision of lethal drugs," the plaintiffs stated in the filing, "Defendants obstructed Plaintiffs' access to the execution and prohibited them from meaningfully reporting on the entire execution."

Further, the lawsuit notes that the shade was then drawn at 6:39, minutes after Lockett began showing signs of distress, without any public explanation. It was only later, at a news briefing, that DOC officials announced that Lockett had died at 7:06.

"[T]he state foreclosed access at the most critical juncture of the execution proceeding," attorneys stated in the lawsuit, "when it became apparent that the lethal injection proceeding diverged from the standard protocol."

An official with the ACLU of Oklahoma, which filed the lawsuit, says this violation goes to the heart of our belief that government is by the people and for the people.

"Regardless of where Oklahomans stand on the death penalty," said Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director of ACLU Oklahoma, "I think we can all agree when the government is exercising its ultimate power -- which is the intentional taking of a life -- that that should not be done in secret."

The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration requiring the state make it clear in its execution protocol that the shade is to be opened as soon as the condemned is brought into the execution chamber, and not closed until there is either a declaration of death, or the execution is stayed.

And they want to get this before the next execution, which is scheduled for November 13.

The state has 20 days to respond.