Nate Jenkins / AP

Rights group challenges Pennsylvania's execution protocol

ACLU asks federal judge to unseal documents containing details about the source of state’s lethal injection drugs

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, on behalf of four newspapers, asked a federal judge on Thursday to unseal court records that contain details about the supply source of controversial drugs used for lethal injections.

The newspapers – the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Philadelphia City Paper and the Guardian – argue that withholding the information is a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The motion comes amid a growing chorus of critics urging death penalty states to make their protocols public following a number of botched executions.

“The information sought by our clients is central to today’s debate about capital punishment,” Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “If the drugs are not made properly, they will not work properly, and the public should be very concerned about that possibility given the gruesome executions we have heard about in other states.”

The motion, filed with Judge Yvette Kane of the U.S. district court in Harrisburg, is part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit, Chester v. Wetzel, brought on behalf of Pennsylvania death row inmates. The suit alleges that Pennsylvania is violating the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment by utilizing a lethal injection procedure that creates significant risks of extreme pain and suffering.

Pennsylvania and a number of death-penalty states have resisted growing calls for increased transparency in the hope of keeping supply routes to the drugs open after the European Union imposed a strict export ban on lethal drugs to the United States.

The request arrives as Pennsylvania prepares for its first execution in 15 years. Convicted murderer Hubert Michael, 57, is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Sept. 22.

Michael, charged with the rape and murder of 16-year-old Trista Eng, has been on death row for two decades. His case is currently on hold awaiting the decision of a federal appeals court.

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