ST. LOUIS — The ACLU of Missouri lauds today’s U.S. Court of Appeals decision allowing a lawsuit to proceed that challenges the Missouri Department of Corrections’ policy permitting the rejection of execution witnesses based on their beliefs.
"We are pleased that our case can move forward and hope this decision is the beginning of real transparency about executions in Missouri,” said Tony Rothert, legal director, ACLU of Missouri. “The Missouri Department of Corrections should act now to fix its discriminatory witness-selection procedure.”
The ACLU filed its lawsuit on behalf of investigative journalist Christopher S. McDaniel. McDaniel has yet to receive a response to his 2014 application from the Missouri Department of Corrections, effectively denying him the opportunity to witness any of the 17 executions that the state has carried out since he submitted his application.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote today that “[t]he opportunity to witness a live execution undoubtedly would facilitate McDaniel’s work as a death penalty reporter for BuzzFeed News; denying him that opportunity interferes with his ability to maximize his professional well-being.” So, the court said, the lawsuit “may proceed in federal court.”
The approval of a witness application is solely at the discretion of the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Today, the court wrote that “McDaniel’s allegations support a plausible claim that an applicant’s viewpoint is a factor used by the Director when considering whom to invite as a witness.”
More often than not, the court has also found the Missouri Department of Corrections in clear violation of the public-records law.