First Amendment

Does press have First Amendment right to view entire execution? ACLU sues over closed blinds

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A lawsuit filed on behalf of two journalists and their newspapers claims the press has a First Amendment right to view executions in their entirety.

The suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Oklahoma says Oklahoma denied journalists a First Amendment right of access in the case of Clayton Lockett, who died of a heart attack after a botched execution in April. The ACLU posted a press release, website information and the lawsuit (PDF). The suit claims violations of the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions.

Blinds were closed to block reporters’ view as intravenous lines were prepared and inserted, according to the suit. The blinds were closed again in the middle of the execution, after Lockett began “writhing, groaning, and uttering words,” the suit says. As a result, the press was denied “the opportunity to verify the nature and source of sounds emanating from the execution chamber, which indicated pain and suffering,” according to the suit. The press was also unable to see Lockett’s final moments and death.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Guardian and the Oklahoma Observer. Their freelance reporter, Katie Fretland, attended the execution. Another plaintiff, Arnold Hamilton, is editor of the Oklahoma Observer.

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