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Federal court grants media organizations full access to Idaho execution

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  1. Newsgathering
The media will be able to view the full execution of an Idaho death row inmate scheduled to be put…

The media will be able to view the full execution of an Idaho death row inmate scheduled to be put to death tomorrow after a federal appeals court granted the journalists' request late Friday.

The decision grants The Associated Press and 16 other media organizations’ request for complete access to the execution of convicted murderer Richard A. Leavitt, which is scheduled to take place Tuesday.

“[T]he First Amendment protects the public’s right to witness all phases of Leavitt’s execution, including the portion the State now shields from view,” wrote Judge Stephen Roy Reinhardt in the U.S. Court of Appeals’ (9th Cir.) opinion.

In the past, four members of the news media were offered seats to executions in Idaho, although their view into the death chamber was obstructed until prison officials who inserted catheters into the veins of the condemned had exited the room. Tomorrow, the journalists in attendance will have complete access to Leavitt’s execution, including his entrance and preparation for the lethal injection, said Jeff Ray, public information officer for the Idaho Department of Correction.

“We are fully abiding by the court’s ruling,” he said.

During oral arguments on Thursday, the Ninth Circuit reminded attorneys for the Department of Correction that in 2002 the court ruled that witnesses in California are entitled to view executions – and possible complications – as soon as an inmate enters the death chamber, before he or she is strapped down and injected.

“Nearly a decade ago, we held in the clearest possible terms that ‘the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber,’” wrote Reinhardt on behalf of the three-judge panel.

Chuck A. Brown, an attorney for the news agencies, said in an interview that the court’s rulings in Idaho and California “might have significant ramifications nationwide.”

Leavitt is on death row for the 1984 murder and mutilation of 31-year-old Danette Elg.