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July 24, 2011

"Video of a Lethal Injection Reopens Questions on the Privacy of Executions"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece in the New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

For decades in the United States, what goes on inside the execution chamber has been largely shrouded from public view, glimpsed only through the accounts of journalists and other witnesses.

But the video recording of Mr. DeYoung’s death, the first since 1992, has once again raised the possibility that executions might be made available for all to see.  In the process, it has reignited a widespread debate about how bright a light to shine on one of the most secretive corners of the criminal justice system.

Legal experts say the decision by Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane of Fulton County Superior Court to allow the taping in Mr. DeYoung’s case opens the way for defense lawyers across the country to push for the video documentation of other executions.  And it is inevitable, many experts believe, that some of those recordings will make their way onto television or even YouTube, with or without the blessings of a court.

Brian Kammer, a defense lawyer who argued for allowing Mr. DeYoung’s execution to be recorded, said that documenting the death was essential because of the controversy over the drugs used in lethal injections.  “We’ve had three botched lethal injections in Georgia prior to Mr. DeYoung, and we thought it was time to get some hard evidence,” Mr. Kammer said....

In pushing for the video, the lawyers argued that there were problems with an execution in June in Georgia that used the drug; the condemned man, Roy Blankenship, was described by a medical expert as jerking, mumbling and thrashing after the injection was administered.  According to an account of the execution in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mr. DeYoung “showed no violent signs in death.”

Lawyers for the state attorney general opposed the recording, saying that it would threaten security and that “in this day and age of almost thoughtless dissemination of information, there exists a credible risk of public distribution.”  After Mr. DeYoung’s execution, the video was sealed and sent to a judge’s chambers for safekeeping, and Mr. Kammer, for one, said he hoped it stayed hidden.  “It’s a horrible thing that Andrew DeYoung had to go through, and it’s not for the public to see that,” he said....

Whether [public access to a recording of an execution] would be beneficial or harmful has for years been a subject of much contention.  Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School who is an expert on the death penalty, says videotaping executions is important because it provides objective evidence that is not dependent on eyewitness accounts.  The decision to allow the recording of Mr. DeYoung’s death was a sign of the courts’ growing awareness of the need for transparency, Ms. Denno said.

“Presumably,” she said, court officials “are going to act responsibly, and the tape will never see the light of day.”  But if such videos become public, she said, it might not be such a bad thing.  She noted that television cameras are allowed in courtrooms and that the public can take tours of prisons.  “Most of what we do in the criminal justice system in terms of punishment is something that is allegedly open to the public,” Ms. Denno said, “and this is the ultimate form of our process.”

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July 24, 2011 at 11:55 AM | Permalink


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the photo is interesting: the only black person is Rainey Bethea

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Jul 24, 2011 1:16:24 PM

If the death penalty is to have any deterrent effect, then the public needs to see theexecution itself. And I don't quite understand the prosecutor's argument that there is a "security" risk--whose security is it concerned with? People need to see other other people executed if we are going to have an honest debate about the appropriateness of the death penalty.

Posted by: Michael | Jul 24, 2011 2:32:53 PM

Dexter should film them.

Posted by: George | Jul 24, 2011 4:01:09 PM

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