Nevada Press Association sues to ensure access to execution
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada print news organization and the American Civil Liberties Union are suing to ensure access to what could be the state’s first execution in 15 years.
A federal lawsuit invoking First Amendment rights seeks a court order banning state prisons chief Charles Daniels from preventing witnesses, including reporters, from observing the lethal injection of convicted killer Zane Michael Floyd.
State and federal judges have put off Floyd’s execution until at least late October to allow time for appeals to be heard.
“The press are the people’s representatives, and you need to ensure the press has complete access,” Richard Karpel, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said Thursday. “It’s a huge deal when the state takes a life. It’s really important that everyone understand everything about the process.”
Aides to Gov. Steve Sisolak and state Attorney General Aaron Ford declined to comment on the lawsuit filed by ACLU attorneys Friday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. Ford’s office represents state officials in several court challenges of the execution plan.
The lawsuit says witnesses should have “uninterrupted viewing” of the condemned man from the time he enters the execution chamber until he is declared dead, with an unfettered ability to hear and see the process.
It points to an execution manual released in June, allowing the prisons chief to choose the number and names of media representatives.
“It also suggests that witnesses will not be able to hear anything inside the chamber until after the blinds open, and even then the witnesses will only hear Floyd’s last words,” the lawsuit noted.
The Press Association asserts that prison officials should not be allowed to draw blinds on execution chamber viewing windows; the choice of who can attend should be explained, with a process for appeals; and closed-circuit video should be provided for witnesses who are denied access.
The manual says prison officials will use at least three drugs, including the powerful opioid fentanyl, the sedative ketamine and a heart-stopping salt, potassium chloride.
The drug alfentanil might substitute for fentanyl and potassium acetate might substitute for potassium chloride, depending on availability.
No state has used ketamine or the fentanyl substitute in an execution, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. Potassium acetate, also used as an aircraft deicer, was mistakenly used by Oklahoma in a 2015 lethal injection.
In an alternate four-drug process, a muscle paralytic, cisatracurium, would be administered before the heart-stopping agent. Other states have used cisatracurium, center director Robert Dunham said.
The Press Association seeks a court order to block use of the paralytic, arguing in the lawsuit that the effects — including stopping breathing muscles — could “mask” the condemned man’s physical reactions from being visible.
“We should know precisely what we are doing and what the condemned person feels or experiences,” Karpel said. “We should know what the state is doing in our name.”
Floyd’s attorneys argue that his death would be unconstitutionally cruel and painful.
Floyd, who was a Marine, received the death penalty in 2000 for killing four people and wounding a fifth with a shotgun at a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999. He also was convicted of repeatedly raping a woman the night before the rampage.
The 45-year-old does not want to die but lost federal appeals, including arguments that he had post-traumatic stress following his military service and that heavy alcohol use by his mother before he was born resulted in personality disorders that prompted him to kill. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take his case.
The last person executed in Nevada was Daryl Mack, who asked to die in 2006 following his conviction in a 1988 rape and murder in Reno.
This story has been corrected to show that other states have used the muscle paralytic cisatracurium in lethal injections.