Lawyer wants to video upcoming Missouri execution
Saturday, May 3, 2014
ST. LOUIS (AP) — An attorney for a Missouri inmate scheduled to be put to death this month is seeking permission to record video of the execution over concerns the man could suffer during the process — a request that follows a botched execution in Oklahoma.
Attorney Cheryl Pilate, who represents convicted killer Russell Bucklew, filed the request Friday with the Missouri Department of Corrections. She asks that a video camera, perhaps two, be stationed inside the execution chamber, pointed at the gurney.
In Missouri executions, witnesses can observe the process as it begins and for several minutes while the inmate presumably dies, but curtains are then closed while prison staff members check the inmate’s vital signs to confirm death. Pilate wants the recording to continue throughout that process and says the faces of execution team members would be blurred so that they cannot be identified.
Video-recording of executions is rare. Pilate says if the state refuses, she’ll ask a court to allow the recording.
A corrections spokesman declined to comment. Eric Slusher, a spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, declined to comment but noted a federal appeals court ruling in 2004 that denied an earlier request to videotape executions.
Oklahoma had scheduled two executions for Tuesday night using a new drug combination for the first time in the state. During the first one, convicted killer Clayton Lockett convulsed violently and tried to lift his head. The execution was halted, and Lockett died of an apparent heart attack more than 40 minutes after the process began. The second execution was postponed.
Bucklew, 45, was convicted of killing a romantic rival as part of a violent crime spree in southeast Missouri in 1996. Pilate said Bucklew suffers from a medical condition that increases the risk that something could go wrong during the execution. She said the condition was diagnosed before he was incarcerated and causes weakened and malformed blood vessels. He bleeds frequently and has impaired circulation, Pilate said.
“We could see a repeat of Oklahoma, maybe even worse,” Pilate said.
Missouri and Oklahoma have different execution protocols. Oklahoma uses three drugs; Missouri uses a single drug, pentobarbital.
Pilate said she would want the video to be made available to the public, “to create a record of what happened.” She said the video could aid future court appeals and also settle discrepancies among witness accounts.
Anne Holsinger of the Death Penalty Information Center, an advocacy group that opposes capital punishment, said no states allow video or even photography, of executions for public dissemination.
In 2011, the lethal injection of convicted killer Andrew DeYoung was video-recorded in Georgia after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it. A videographer with a camera on a tripod stood about 5 feet away from the gurney inside the execution chamber.
That video was made at the request of another Georgia death row inmate, Gregory Walker. His lawyers argued that recording DeYoung’s execution would provide critical evidence in Walker’s appeal about the effects of pentobarbital, part of Georgia’s execution procedure.
Holsinger said Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s execution was broadcast on closed-circuit television so relatives of the victims could witness it.
Fordham University School of Law professor Deborah Denno said it isn’t surprising that states refuse to allow video given the secrecy most employ in the execution process. Many states — Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma among them — refuse to say where they obtain execution drugs, whether they are tested, or who is part of the execution team.
“They’re secretive to begin with because the more we see what they’re doing, the more we realize that they’re incompetent and that they’re making mistakes,” Denno said. “Mr. Lockett’s execution is a prime example of that.”
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