Editor's note: Today, I'm doing something a little different on the blog. Given the timeliness of the issue, I am posting a draft of our Friday editorial on media access to the scheduled execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades.
On Friday morning, the state of Idaho is scheduled to take a life in the name of its people — but largely beyond the view of its people.
By restricting the news media’s access to a crucial step in the execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades, the state Correction Department will restrict what Idahoans know about this most sobering service of justice.
Idahoans will have to accept, on faith, the notion that the state’s first execution in 17 years was carried out without complications. That establishes a bad precedent for future executions — and there’s a good chance other Idaho inmates will be put to death in the next few years.
Four reporters will be allowed to watch the execution, but the Correction Department has decided that they will not be able to watch as the execution team straps Rhoades into a gurney and inserts IVs into his veins.
The insertion of the IVs is a crucial matter; in fact, it is central to Rhoades’ last-minute legal appeals. Rhoades’ attorneys have questioned whether the state’s execution team is adequately trained to administer an IV sedative that would render their client unconscious — and spare him from excruciating pain when drugs are injected to stop his breathing and stop his heart.
Judges have rejected this argument, contending that the state can execute Rhoades without violating Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush, who sided with the state Monday, also said the Corrections Department has appeared to “play catch-up,” deploying a compressed training schedule leading up to the execution date.
The public has a right to know whether the state has properly prepared its execution team. The media is there to bear witness, on the public’s behalf. Its watchdog role is inherently clear.
And that isn’t just a newspaper editorial board talking. In 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the news media in a hauntingly similar case, pertaining to lethal injections of inmates on California’s Death Row. “The public has a First Amendment right to view the condemned as he enters the execution chamber, is forcibly restrained and fitted with the apparatus of death.”
This sounds like indisputable legal precedent. Correction Department Director Brent Reinke argues, unconvincingly, that this case doesn’t apply because it pertains to facts unique to California. If anything, the ruling directly challenges one of Reinke’s prime objections. Reinke says unrestricted media access would compromise the confidentiality of his execution team.
A fair concern. But again, let’s turn to the Circuit Court ruling: “(The) fear that execution team members will be publicly identified and retaliated against is an overreaction, supported only by questionable speculation.”
These aren’t our words. These are the words of a federal appeals court that has jurisdiction over Idaho. These are words that, sadly, have been ignored by the state.
The state that kills in the name of its people should be completely and fully accountable to its people. Today, Idaho’s Correction Department stands poised to hold itself to a far lower standard.
“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board.