There is no First Amendment right to witness executions, a federal judge said yesterday in dismissing a lawsuit by a coalition of journalists to force the Arkansas Department of Correction to allow witnesses to see and hear all stages of the lethal-injection process, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Now, prison officials open a curtain between the execution chamber and a viewing room only after the condemned inmate is strapped to a gurney and the lethal injection lines inserted.
The lawsuit said witnesses should be able to view the entire process, from the time the inmate enters the execution chamber, to help educate the public about how the state takes a life, and so the witnesses can see if anything goes wrong. A corrections official had said that inmates would be more likely to be disruptive if people were watching them walk to the gurney. U. S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright said state law requires only that at least six “respectable citizens” be present “to verify that the execution was conducted in the manner required by law.”