Nashville Paper Sues for Access to Execution Manual

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A weekly newspaper has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration requesting draft copies and other correspondence used in revising the state’s procedure manual for executing prisoners.

Bredesen suspended four executions in February because he said the document needed significant revision. But when The Nashville Scene asked for a draft, state officials declined to hand it over because they say it isn’t finished being rewritten and is privileged information.

“There’s no subject that should be of more concern to the public … than capital punishment,” said Nashville Scene attorney John Williams, who filed the lawsuit in Davidson County Chancery Court on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t seem the development of such protocol should be done in secret, but should be done with the maximum amount of openness and transparency. These are life-and-death issues,” Williams said.

Sharon Curtis-Flair, a spokeswoman with the state attorney general’s office, said the state is reviewing the lawsuit and will address “all the pertinent issues in our pleadings.”

Bredesen spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said the governor’s office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Williams said Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman, who was reviewing the Scene’s lawsuit Tuesday morning, has set a hearing in the case for April 25.

Bredesen stayed the executions of four inmates who had been scheduled to die prior to May 2, the date he set as the deadline for the overhaul of the state’s execution procedures. The state’s last execution took place in June, before the manual was revised.

A review by the Associated Press of Tennessee’s procedure manual found it to be a jumble of conflicting instructions that mixed new lethal injection instructions with those for the old electric chair.

In the Scene’s lawsuit, which names Department of Correction Commissioner George Little as a defendant, it says the newspaper first requested documents on Feb. 16 pertaining to the execution manual.

On March 21, the Scene sent a letter to Bredesen and Little clarifying its earlier request for records, which included any drafts of the new manual, the lawsuit states.

Some records were provided to the newspaper. However, an April 5 letter from Senior Assistant Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter stated that certain records were being withheld “based on a claim of privilege.”

The Scene claims that the records are not privileged and wants Little to hand over copies of drafts of the new execution manual, among other related documents.

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