America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Three Arkansas reporters to witness executions

Arkansas' death chamber
Arkansas' death chamber
Crush of journalists from elsewhere expected at prison

3 Arkansas journalists will be allowed to witness each execution at the Cummins Unit this month, and prison system officials are preparing for a media contingent from around the globe.

The state Department of Correction sent out Wednesday a revised version of its media protocol for executions, providing details on how information about the 7 planned deaths will be transmitted to the public.

In addition to those who witness the lethal injection unfold, other reporters from state, national and international news outlets will be allowed to set up in a media center at the prison, where they will have access to 2 phones to call outside, according to the document.

Media will be allowed to broadcast from the prison parking lot and from a roadblock set up on Arkansas 388.

Journalists will be barred from taking any electronic devices into the prison, with the exception of audio recorders and cameras.

The document says only credentialed journalists from Arkansas news organizations -- 1 print reporter; a radio, Web or TV reporter; and a member of The Associated Press -- will be allowed into the witness room.

Reporters witnessing the execution firsthand will be required to sign a form agreeing not to attempt to record any part of the execution.

The 1st execution is to begin at 7 p.m. Monday.

Kelly Kissel, state editor for The Associated Press, said the news service plans to send a reporter to observe each execution. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also plans to have its staff cover the executions.

The death penalty in Arkansas -- last carried out in 2005 -- has traditionally been covered almost exclusively by the local press, Kissel said.

The scheduling of 7 executions -- 8 were originally scheduled before 1 was blocked by a federal judge -- over an 11-day period has attracted much wider attention.

Newspapers in New York and Los Angeles have dedicated coverage to the executions. In recent weeks, journalists from Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom have descended upon the state, attending clemency hearings and court cases.

A crew from the British Broadcasting Corporation was in Little Rock on Wednesday filming a documentary.

Prisons spokesman Solomon Graves said media requests also have come into his office from France, Canada, Sweden and Japan. It is the most media attention the department has received in his 14 months on the job, Graves said.

Furonda Brasfield, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said she has been getting daily calls from journalists across the United States and Europe, where most countries have abolished the death penalty.

"It is unbelievable the press coverage and the worldwide concern and outrage," Brasfield said.

The media center where reporters will be stationed will be at the prison's visitation center, which can normally accommodate more than 100 people, Graves said.

Graves said the department will not know how many outlets or reporters plan to cover the executions until they arrive at the prison Monday. He said there are no plans as of Wednesday for a cap.

A crush of reporters trying to file stories simultaneously around the world could prove to be a problem if they are all routed through 2 telephones, said Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor David Bailey.

"They're imposing old-fashioned requirements on a pretty modern situation," Bailey said.

In Oklahoma, where executions have been conducted in recent years, Kissel said reporters are allowed to take in laptops that can be hooked up to the Internet, which allows reporters to file stories throughout the process.

He said the last time Arkansas had an execution, reporters in the media center were allowed laptops. That was more than 11 years ago, when cellular coverage in the prison's rural area of Lincoln County was scant.

Bailey said the newspaper has asked the department to reconsider its prohibition on electronics and allow reporters more options for filing within the prison.

Graves stood by the policy.

"We are providing the resources we are able to provide, and we feel those are sufficient," Graves said.

Other restrictions normally imposed on visitors to the prison also will apply for media covering the executions. For example, reporters will not be allowed to take tobacco past the walls.

Source: Arkansas Online, April 13, 2017

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