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Politics & Government

PA Settles Lawsuit Challenging Execution Witness Policy

Pennsylvania has settled a lawsuit that sought to force the commonwealth to allow witnesses to view the entire execution of condemned prisoners.

The agreement follows a federal judge’s order last fall that the state shall not prevent witnesses, including reporters, see the entire lethal injection process.

Vic Walczak is legal director for the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, which worked on the case.

He says the state’s previous policy required Department of Corrections employees to obstruct the view of witnesses while drugs were administered and the inmate’s consciousness was checked.

"They would draw the curtain to not allow witnesses to view what was going on for pretty much most of the execution process," Walczak said. "So it was really after the person was strapped down, after the IV lines are in, after he’s already on the table, and then for a short while, and then again after he was pronounced dead."

The commonwealth argued the process must be shrouded to protect the identity of the employees administering the lethal injection, but lawyers with the ACLU and the firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP said the workers are already anonymous, because they wear surgical masks during the procedure.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News last year when the state appeared close to the first non-voluntary execution of an inmate in some 15 years.

The inmate received a stay of execution.