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Lawsuit Claims Oklahoma Prison Officials Blocked Reporters' View Of Botched Execution

The ACLU and two newspapers filed a complaint Monday demanding uninterrupted access to witness an execution.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and two newspapers filed a lawsuit Monday claiming that Oklahoma prison officials blocked reporters' view of Clayton Lockett's botched execution in April.

The federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU, its Oklahoma chapter, The Guardian, and the Oklahoma Observer seeks to "stop Oklahoma prison officials from selectively filtering what journalists can see during an execution."

Lockett, 38, died of a heart attack 43 minutes after being injected with a new drug combination that left him apparently writhing and moaning in pain.

The lawsuit says that the state violated the First Amendment by blocking reporters' access to witness the execution from start to finish.

"The state of Oklahoma violated the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of the press to witness executions so the public can be informed about the government's actions and hold it accountable," ACLU Staff Attorney Lee Rowland said in a press release. "The death penalty represents the most powerful exercise of government authority. The need for public oversight is as critical at the execution stage as it is during trial."

The lawsuit demands that reporters and other witnesses are permitted to view the execution from the time the inmate enters the chamber until the body leaves it.

"At an execution, the press serves as the public’s eyes and ears," said Katie Fretland, a reporter who attended the Lockett execution for The Guardian and the Oklahoma Observer. "The government shouldn’t be allowed to effectively blindfold us when things go wrong. The public has a right to the whole story, not a version edited by government officials."

An Arizona inmate's prolonged execution in July led to conflicting reports from witnesses.

Handout / Reuters

An Arizona Republic reporter who witnessed Joseph Wood's execution said he "gasped" around 660 times. However the Attorney General's press secretary who witnessed the execution said the inmate did not gasp for air and that it was just "reporters and attorneys" claiming there was gasping.

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at

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