On Tuesday, our legal team will make arguments in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of our client, Larry Flynt (yes, that Larry Flynt).
In Flynt v. Lombardi, we asked the court to unseal secret court records about the protocol used at the execution of Joseph Franklin in 2013.
Franklin shot Flynt in 1978. The incident paralyzed Flynt, who later advocated for Franklin to serve his sentence with a lifetime in jail, not death by lethal injection.
“I find it totally absurd that a government that forbids killing is allowed to use that same crime as punishment,” said Larry Flynt in 2013. “But, until the death penalty is abolished, the public has a right to know the details about how the state plans to execute people on its behalf.”
This is the case’s second trip to the Court of Appeals. Initially, Flynt was denied even the opportunity to ask for the secret court records to be disclosed. (The Missouri Press Association and several other media organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Flynt in the case’s first trip to court). In 2015, the Court of Appeals ruled in Flynt’s favor.
Over the years, we’ve found the Missouri Department of Corrections has chosen to keep a lot of public information a secret. When we find out the secrets, it turns out there was something to hide.
We’ve had to file several Sunshine Law request-related lawsuits against the Missouri Department of Corrections for not releasing public information about executions.
More often than not, the court has also found the Missouri Department of Correction in clear violation of the law.
Just 46 days after the ACLU filed a Sunshine Law request with the Missouri Department of Corrections in 2013, then-Gov. Jay Nixon postponed the execution and demanded a new protocol for lethal injection because Missouri had plans to be the first state to use propofol, a common anesthetic, for an execution on Oct. 23. The ACLU was curious how the department received its supply of propofol when the manufacturers refuse to sell to corrections departments. The department had illegally kept a shipment of the drug it never was supposed to receive. Eventually, the court found that the Missouri Department of Corrections purposefully violated the Sunshine Law to prevent the public from learning about the clandestine way in which it had obtained drugs.
We’ve also filed Sunshine Law requests about:
- Which pharmacy the state uses to get its drugs to administer the death penalty.
- The state’s refusal to share who requests to witness executions.
- How the state picks witnesses to executions.
This practice of secrecy to hide death-penalty practices from the public is nothing new for Missouri. In 2008, reporters uncovered records showing significant professional and ethical shortcomings by the physician Missouri hired to plan and carry out executions.
A transparent government creates trust in communities. We should be skeptical of any governmental practice that seeks to keep us in the dark. When it comes to keeping information about its execution practices secret, the Missouri Department of Corrections usually has something to hide.