Media Ask High Court to Unseal Execution Case Records

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Alabama executed convicted murderer Christopher Price on May 30 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant a stay of execution. Half of the briefs in the case were blacked out, so the public could not see them, and virtually all of the case record was sealed. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and NPR have asked the court to unseal the material that was blocked from public view, NPR reports. The sealed information has nothing to do with Price’s guilt. It involves the drugs and the protocol Alabama uses for executions. Price wanted to be executed by nitrogen gas, which he contended would be less painful than death by lethal injection using a drug called midazolam, which Alabama use in the execution.

The deletions were at the insistence of Alabama. “The state did not provide any explanation for its asserted need for secrecy,” citing only its need “to reference certain material … designated ‘confidential,’ ” the Reporters Committee said. “Alabama has no legitimate interest that justifies sealing either its lethal injection protocol or expert evidence regarding the effects of midazolam.” The court has said that its proceedings cannot be closed “unless specific, on-the-record findings are made demonstrating that closure is essential to preserve higher values” and that the closure is “narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” Defense lawyer Aaron Katz said he agreed to let the record be closed to the public and press because he was running out of time. Alabama’s claim that it needs to keep all that information secret is “crazy,” said the Reporters Committee’s Katie Townsend. How can it be “that the state gets away with saying to the public, ‘We’re not going to tell you our legal arguments, or allow you to see our evidence, which goes to the heart of the legal issue’?” she said.

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