Skip to content

Supreme Court refuses request to order videotaping of execution for Donahue

Post categories

  1. Newsgathering
Supreme Court refuses request to order videotaping of execution for Donahue 06/28/1994 VIRGINIA -- The U.S. Supreme Court in mid-June…

VIRGINIA — The U.S. Supreme Court in mid-June denied talk show host Phil Donahue and convicted murderer David Lawson’s request that Donahue be allowed to tape Lawson’s execution. Lawson died in the gas chamber June 15.

The court granted Lawson and Donahue’s request for expedited review, but denied their petition.

The petition asked the court to issue a writ of mandamus instructing the North Carolina Supreme Court to order the warden of Lawson’s prison and the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Correction “to permit and to take all steps necessary to facilitate” the taping of the execution.

The petition also asked that the videotape be kept under seal pending the final judicial ruling on Donahue and Lawson’s claimed right to broadcast a tape of the execution.

The execution, untaped, occurred at 2 a.m. June 15. Lawson, 38, dressed in white boxer shorts, a diaper and socks, seemed to scream “I’m human! I’m human!” before he was put to death in the gas chamber, The New York Times reported.

The North Carolina Supreme Court in Raleigh ruled in mid-May that Donahue and Lawson have no constitutional right to tape the execution.

Donahue and Lawson then took their case to the U.S. District Court in Raleigh. The district judge ruled in early June that he did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

After losing in federal district court, Donahue and Lawson asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond (4th Cir.) to issue an order permitting them to tape the execution.

In mid-June the appeals court denied Donahue and Lawson’s request.

North Carolina sentenced Lawson to die for the 1980 murder of Wayne Shinn, who was shot when he interrupted Lawson’s burglary of his house, The Associated Press reported.

Lawson’s attorney, John Hasty, said in an interview that denying Donahue permission to tape the execution “infringes on his right to effectively report using the tools of his trade.”

Lawson and Donahue also maintained that the public deserves accurate information about capital punishment so it can decide whether to support it, AP reported.

(Lawson v. Dixon; Media Counsel: John Hasty, G. Bryan Adams, III; Charlotte)

The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.