Public’s right to know now extends to death chamber

Editorial from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Tuesday morning, the public got an unprecedented look at an execution in Idaho – not just the injection of a lethal chemical and the moments before death.

Eyewitnesses to the procedure were also allowed to see the condemned, Richard Leavitt, enter the room where he was scheduled to die. They watched as he was placed on a gurney and secured with leather straps. And the handful of witnesses, including four members of the media, saw the catheters that would deliver a lethal dose of pentobarbitol inserted in his arms.

The start-to-finish aspect of the execution was a direct result of a successful lawsuit filed by a group of news organizations, including the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, that claimed the Idaho Department of Correction policy barring witnesses from viewing a lethal injection in its entirety violated the First Amendment and the public’s right to know.

The public process also brings to light any difficulty in conducting the execution. Death penalty foes claim the catheters can be inserted incorrectly, causing undue pain for the inmate.

That was not the case this time, according to witnesses.

“I am grateful that we have four media witnesses here to tell you what they saw,” said Brent Reinke, Idaho’s prisons chief, after the execution. “Our goal was to make this as professional as possible with dignity and respect, and I believe we met that mark.”

Who knows what will happen the next time?

The media didn’t file the lawsuit because of a perverse need to see a death sentence carried out. We would prefer to not have to be the public’s eyes and ears in such matters, but that’s what we’ve done for years.
As long as the state is conducting business in the name of you, the public, our job will be to report – good or bad – on how that is carried out.

Watching someone die as an end result of the judicial process is not easy.

As long as society insists on meting out the death penalty, we will insist the act of killing remains public in its entirety.

Without such oversight, the state-sanctioned deaths would take on a sinister aura we would find intolerable.

Editorial from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News

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