[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) [advocacy website] filed a motion [text, PDF] Thursday on behalf of the Guardian, the the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Philadelphia City Paper [news websites] asking the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website] to unseal court records which include information regarding the source of Pennsylvania’s lethal injection drugs. The request comes as Pennsylvania prepares for its first execution in 15 years, with Hubert Lester Michael Jr. scheduled to be executed on September 22 by lethal injection [Inquirer report] for the 1993 kidnapping and murder of Trista Eng. In its supporting memorandum [text, PDF], the ACLU-PA argues that there is significant public interest in a full examination of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ [official website] planned execution procedures, including key information regarding the supply chain for the drugs to be used in Michael’s lethal injection, especially in light of recent executions.
The controversy surrounding the contents of lethal injection drugs and execution protocol in the US has been a mainstream issue in politics and in courts around the US in 2014, particularly after the botched executions of death row inmates Joseph Wood in July and Clayton Lockett [JURIST op-eds] in May. Earlier this week a US appeals court denied a Texas death row inmate’s challenge to the drugs that would be used in his lethal injection [JURIST report], holding that the question of the drugs’ effectiveness after their expiration date amounted to mere speculation. Trottie was executed without apparent suffering [WP report] on Wednesday. Last week the governor of Oklahoma announced a series of new protocols [JURIST report] that are expected to take effect for state executions following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. In August a federal district court in California ruled that the state’s capital punishment regime creates lengthy delays and results in uncertainty for death row inmates [JURIST report], amounting to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. In May the Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals approved a six-month stay of the execution [JURIST report] for a current death row inmate while an investigation is conducted into issues with Lockett’s execution.