Georgia's videotaped execution sets new precedentDeborah W. Denno in KSRO Newstalk, July 22, 2011
By GREG BLUESTEIN Associated Press
The video camera that recorded the execution of a Georgia death row inmate did more than give attorneys an account of the man's reaction to a new lethal injection drug. Death penalty experts say it could also lead to a flurry of new legal moves seeking more public access to secretive death chambers.
Thursday's execution of Andrew Grant DeYoung for the 1993 murders of his parents and sister was believed to be the first in the U.S. in almost two decades recorded on video. It came at the urging of defense attorneys who want to document the effects of the sedative pentobarbital.
The Georgia Attorney General's office warned the move could set a troubling precedent and lead to the "potential for sensationalism and abuse," and the state worried that it could encourage a rash of similar filings. The execution was pushed back a day to buy prosecutors more time to block the taping, but a second legal challenge was also rejected.
Fordham Law School professor Deborah Denno said she expects other attorneys in Georgia and elsewhere to start demanding that executions be recorded on video now that Georgia has done so.
"This development would help immensely in detecting the many problems with the lethal injection process, especially if the videotaping included all of the procedure from start to finish," she said.
The legal fight over the video recording unfolded amid a larger debate about Georgia's lethal injection procedure.
DeYoung's attorney argued that using pentobarbital would cause his client to suffer based partly on an Associated Press account of the June 23 execution of Roy Blankenship, who was seen jerking his head several times during the procedure, looking at the injection sites in his arms and appearing to mutter.
State and federal courts rejected DeYoung's requests to stay the execution. But a Georgia judge granted a request by another inmate who sought the recording as evidence for his own case about the effects of pentobarbital. The judge ordered the video be kept under seal.
The Georgia Supreme Court let the judge's ruling stand late Wednesday, concluding that prosecutors didn't properly appeal the decision. The court rejected a second appeal Thursday, clearing the way for the recording to happen.
On Thursday night, a videographer with a camera on a tripod stood inside the execution chamber about 5 feet away from the gurney where DeYoung lay.
When asked to make a final statement, DeYoung said he was "sorry to everyone I hurt."
When the three-drug injection began, DeYoung blinked his eyes and swallowed for about two minutes, then his eyes closed and he became still. He was pronounced dead at 8:04 p.m.
Authorities said DeYoung cut the telephone wires of his family's home in the middle of the night in 1993. He then stabbed his mother repeatedly while she was sleeping upstairs, and then stabbed his father and sister, prosecutors said. A brother sleeping downstairs escaped after hearing the commotion and ran to a neighbor's house for help.
The last time an execution was recorded took place in California in 1992, when attorneys challenged the use of gas as a method of execution, said defense attorney Brian Kammer, who filed the video motion.
Timothy McVeigh's 2001 execution at a federal prison in Indiana was broadcast on closed-circuit TV to a gathering of survivors and victims' family members in Oklahoma City, but there was no indication it was taped.
Georgia attorneys argued the courts don't have the power to order a video crew to monitor an execution, and warned the recording could leak out into the public despite the judge's order to seal the tape. The state also warned that allowing the recording would interfere with the strict security measures in place for executions.
But defense lawyers said the security concerns were overblown. Kammer said in the filing that the corrections department has routinely let school tours within the prison and allowed a PBS show in 2006 to film the execution chamber, although it did not tape an execution.
"It is simply disingenuous to assert that video recording of Mr. DeYoung's execution constitutes a fundamental threat to the security of the institution," he said in the filing.
While death penalty attorneys applaud the judge's order, they say additional steps are needed to ensure lethal injections are proper.
"It is always better to have more transparency in what has been an exceptionally secretive execution process," said Ty Alper, an attorney who works with the death penalty clinic at the University of California-Berkeley. "But videotaping an upcoming execution is no substitute for conducting a real investigation into what actually happened."