Witnesses to the June 27 execution of Samuel Lopez will be allowed to watch as the executioner inserts intravenous lines that will carry the lethal drug to Lopez’s body.
Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan sent a letter today informing Lopez of the change in procedure. Witnesses in previous executions didn’t see the prisoner until he was already secured and the lines inserted.
“Over time, the department has made changes to the (procedures) and these are steps in the right direction,” said Federal Public Defender Dale Baich, one of Lopez’s lawyers.
Ryan said in the letter that witnesses will watch the insertion process by closed-circuit monitors in the witness room. Prosecutors, media, members of the public, and family of the victim and condemned typically make up the small group of witnesses.
Baich represents a group of condemned inmates who asked the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to allow him and other attorneys access inside the death chamber to watch as the inmate is prepared for the execution.
Baich is appealing a May 30 decision by a U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake, who denied motions to allow attorneys and media watch the entire execution process. Baich’s motion was for the purpose of gathering evidence a lawsuit challenging the state’s execution procedures, while the Arizona First Amendment Coalition was arguing in an amicus brief for transparency on First Amendment grounds.
Baich said Ryan’s decision doesn’t make moot the request to the appellate court.
Baich said Ryan’s decision doesn’t give lawyers the right to be present for the insertion of the lines. He will get to watch only because he is one of Lopez’s designated witnesses, but if he wasn’t, then he wouldn’t be allowed in the witness room with the other witnesses.
A federal judge on Tuesday denied a petition from The Associated Press and 16 other news groups that want a court to strike down Idaho’s policy restricting full access to executions. The news organizations filed a lawsuit last month over the portion of Idaho’s policy that prevents witnesses from viewing lethal injections from start to finish.
The Associated Press contributed to this report