HARRISBURG - Witnesses to future executions in Pennsylvania will for the first time in recent memory be able to view the entire procedure.
Under an agreement settling a federal lawsuit filed by the Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News last year, witnesses will be able to see the process from the moment the condemned enters the death chamber to the time they are pronounced dead.
The suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District argued the state Department of Corrections violated the First Amendment of the Constitution by preventing witnesses, including reporters and family members of victims, from observing and hearing the whole process.
In the compromise settlement the Department of Corrections will open the curtain between the witness room and the death chamber during the duration of the execution and set up a public address system so the witnesses will be able to hear the activity.
The Corrections Secretary reserves the right to close the curtain for security reasons or shut down the PA system should an inmate say anything "malicious or threatening" toward witnesses, the agreement says.
There have been no executions in Pennsylvania since 1998. The newspapers sued shortly before the scheduled execution of convicted murderer Terrance Williams in the fall of 2012.
Williams who was convicted in the 1984 bludgeoning death of Amos Norwood in Philadelphia received a stay in a separate pleading. No executions are scheduled at this time, according to a Corrections Department spokeswoman. There are 191 people currently on death row in Pennsylvania.
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