The Ninth Circuit ruling is available in Adobe .pdf format.
"Court sides with AP, news groups over execution," is the AP report written by Jessie L. Bonner. Here's an extended excerpt:
Prison officials say they'll work to carry out an execution next week as scheduled, after an appeals court sided with The Associated Press and other news organizations in ruling that witnesses should have full viewing access to a convicted killer's lethal injection.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the decision Friday, a day after hearing arguments in a lawsuit from the 17 news organizations seeking to change Idaho's protocol, saying it's unconstitutionally restrictive.
The case aimed to strike down a portion of Idaho's regulations that prevent witnesses — including reporters acting as representatives of the public — from watching executions until after catheters have been inserted into the veins of death row inmates.
"Nearly a decade ago, we held in the clearest possible terms that 'the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber," the judges said in their ruling Friday. "The State of Idaho has had ample opportunity for the past decade to adopt an execution procedure that reflects this settled law."
It's unclear how the ruling will affect the scheduled execution next week of Idaho death row inmate Richard Leavitt, who was convicted of the 1984 murder of a Blackfoot woman.
"We, of course, respect the court's decision. We will take the necessary measures to assure that the execution continues as scheduled," said Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray.
The lawsuit comes as lethal injections have drawn greater scrutiny, from whether the drugs are effective to whether the execution personnel are properly trained.
The news groups launched their appeal after a federal judge Tuesday denied their request seeking to prevent Leavitt's execution without the changes.
The appellate judges, during arguments Thursday, noted that the 9th Circuit had already ruled in a 2002 California case that every aspect of an execution should be open to witnesses, from the moment the condemned enters the death chamber to the final heartbeat.
The decade-old decision established what was expected of the nine Western states within the court's jurisdiction. A decade later, four of the states have kept part of each execution away from public view, according to death penalty experts.
"Idaho ordered to open executions," is Betsy Z. Russell's Spokane Spokesman-Review report.
The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with the news media late Friday, ordering a preliminary injunction to require Idaho to permit full viewing of the upcoming execution of Richard Leavitt, including early stages in which intravenous lines are inserted to allow lethal drugs to be administered.
The execution is scheduled for Tuesday.
“The State of Idaho has had ample opportunity for the past decade to adopt an execution procedure that reflects this settled law,” the appellate court wrote, reversing U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge’s rejection of a preliminary injunction. “We fault the State, not the media plaintiffs, for our need to consider this question several days before an execution: the State has missed opportunity after opportunity to bring its execution procedures into compliance with the clear law of this circuit.”
The lawsuit was brought by 16 Idaho news outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, and also including the Idaho Press Club and The Spokesman-Review. The media groups charged that the state’s execution witness access rules, which prohibited witnesses, including the news media, from seeing the early portions of lethal injection executions, directly violated a 2002 9th Circuit decision. The court agreed.
The three-judge panel, in a unanimous opinion authored by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, found no validity to the state’s claims that an order to pull back the curtain between witnesses and the execution chamber approximately 20 minutes earlier in the process would force delays in the scheduled execution. Instead, the court said only “minimal changes” would be required.
“The First Amendment protects the right to witness executions in their entirety,” the appellate court wrote.
Jeff Ray, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Correction, said Friday night, “We’ll take the necessary measures to ensure that the execution continues as scheduled. We’re still looking it over and figuring out the specifics, but we will do what the court says we need to do, and the execution will continue on Tuesday.”
Earlier coverage of the Idaho open government lawsuit begins at the link.