Several news outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch have filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections to make executions viewable to the public from start to finish.
Although several steps in execution by lethal injection have always been private in Virginia, a 2017 state policy change keeps everything private except the reading of the death warrant and inmate’s last words.
The policy only permits one media representative from print, television, radio, and wire service, and immediate family members of the murder victims, to witness the execution.
The policy change came after the execution of Ricky Gray, who was convicted of the 2006 murders of two sisters and their parents. His execution was delayed by more than half an hour by activity conducted behind a closed curtain. The day after the execution, the Virginia Department of Corrections said the delay was due to problems placing the IV lines.
It was the first time the state used two chemicals made by compounding pharmacies, and Gray’s lawyers weren’t satisfied with the explanation. They sought an outside investigation.
“The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees the public an affirmative right of access to certain government proceedings, including a right to witness the entirety of executions carried out by the government,” the lawsuit argues.
The suit says that public access to the entire execution guarantees public oversight of the executions. Witnesses then can ensure that the actions of the execution teams and state officials comport with execution protocol and don’t violate the ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
The lawsuit also claims that the front curtain during lethal injections block the public from monitoring how the IV lines are placed, how many attempts and how long it takes personnel to place the lines.
The lawsuit asks the court to rule that the parts of the state’s execution manual barring public access to viewing the complete execution procedure violates the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.