Court: Tenn. must release execution information

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2014 12:36 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee must turn over the names of people involved in executions to the attorneys for 11 death row inmates, a state appeals court ruled.

The ruling Monday came as part of a broader lawsuit from the inmates challenging the state's lethal injection method and its law allowing electrocutions, claiming both are unconstitutional. Attorneys for the inmates said the names of people involved, including the pharmacist who will compound the drug and the supervising physician, are needed so they can investigate whether they are qualified, among other things.

"Not revealing the information to us is the equivalent of saying, 'Trust us, we wouldn't lie to you,'" Kelley Henry, who represents some of the inmates, said in an email.

Attorneys for the state argued that Tennessee law prohibits public disclosure of the identity of people involved in an execution. They offered to provide the inmates' attorneys with information about the education, training and certifications of those involved and let the inmates' attorneys conduct depositions with them from behind a screen so their identities would be shielded.

That would still leave the inmates "unable to independently verify this information or subject it to meaningful scrutiny," the appeals court ruled.

Attorney general's office spokeswoman Leigh Ann Jones said Monday they were reviewing the ruling.

The names will be released only to the inmates' attorneys, who are prohibited from revealing them to nearly anyone else, including their clients.

Tennessee has not executed anyone in nearly five years because of challenges to the state's previous lethal injection procedures and difficulty obtaining at least one of the three lethal injection drugs.

Last year, the state adopted a new one-drug lethal injection protocol. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a law allowing electrocutions if prison officials were unable to obtain the drug. The new law made Tennessee the only state that allows the use of the electric chair against an inmate's will.

The inmates' lawsuit said the electric chair violates society's evolving standards of decency and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. It also said the state has no way to ensure the purity and potency of the lethal injection drug, pentobarbital.

Death row inmate Billy Ray Irick had been scheduled to be executed next week, but the Tennessee Supreme Court recently postponed it because of the legal challenges.