A reporter sued [complaint, PDF] Missouri’s prisons chief in federal court on Wednesday for excluding him from being an execution witness. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocate website] filed the lawsuit on behalf of Christopher McDaniel [profile], a reporter whose stories have been critical of Missouri’s death penalty procedures. The suit asks [press release] a judge to block anyone other than Missouri’s attorney general from serving as an execution witness until McDaniel’s due-process claims are decided. McDaniel applied in January 2014 to witness a Missouri execution. He has stated he wants to “ensure that executions are carried out in a constitutional manner.” McDaniel has yet to receive a response to his request, while 17 executions have been carried out by the state. The Missouri Department of Corrections has “unfettered discretion” [AP report] in deciding who may be among the at least “eight reputable citizens” to witness an execution. The ACLU alleges that records they obtained show that applicants to be execution witnesses were denied “if they expressed a desire to ensure that executions were carried out properly and constitutionally.”
Capital punishment [JURIST op-ed] remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. Last month the US Supreme Court [official website] upheld a stay [JURIST report] of execution for Alabama inmate Vernon Madison. A few days before that a Miami judge ruled [JURIST report] that Florida’s revamped death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous agreement among jurors to approve executions. In April Virginia’s General Assembly voted [JURIST report] to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs. In February the Eleventh Circuit rejected [JURIST report] a Georgia death row inmate’s legal challenge to the death penalty. In January Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood stated that he plans to ask lawmakers to approve the firing squad, electrocution or nitrogen gas as alternate methods of execution if lethal injection drugs become unavailable [JURIST report].