Newspapers challenge Pa. policy of shrouding executions

    A federal judge is considering whether to grant a request to block executions in Pennsylvania unless the state agrees to provide full access to witnesses.

    Two newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News, have challenged the commonwealth’s policy of shielding parts of the execution process.

    To shield or not to shield

    Representing the papers, Pittsburgh-area attorney Paul Titus says no part of the lethal injection process should be hidden from view.

    “Most of the potentially painful parts are done behind closed curtains, so there’s no opportunity for the public witnesses or the press to see what is really happening behind those curtains, and we just think that shouldn’t happen,” he said.

    However, lawyers for the state Department of Corrections say the practice of obstructing certain parts of an execution follows state law requiring the anonymity of those involved in the execution.

    Freedom of the press?

    The two newspapers say the shielding violates their First Amendment right to view and report on executions, and their lawyers argue the state hasn’t proven that people involved in executions have ever been harassed when the process is viewed uninterrupted.

    The challenge arose when it appeared convicted murderer Terrance Williams would be put to death early this month. A state judge halted the execution.

    Another execution is on the horizon, scheduled for Nov. 8.

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