Saturday, September 27, 2003

ACLU sues over executions

Show entire process, civil rights group in Ohio says

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Executions in Ohio should be public from beginning to end, including the insertion of intravenous needles in condemned inmates' arms, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The ACLU's Ohio chapter sued Thursday in U.S. District Court in Columbus to force prison officials to let witnesses see the entire execution.

Previous court rulings in Oregon and California have prohibited prison officials from limiting what witnesses can see, said Raymond Vasvari, the ACLU Ohio's legal director.

Prison officials bring death row offenders into the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville with IV shunts already in place in both arms.

Vasvari said the state is trying to conceal the true nature of executions, adding that inserting the needles can be a long, painful process.

"What they've done is taken the process of judicially taking a man's life and reduced it to a minor surgical procedure," he said. "The state is trying to sanitize and sugarcoat state-sponsored killing."

The group is suing on behalf of convicted killer Anthony Apanovitch of Cleveland. Apanovitch, on death row in Mansfield, raped and killed a Cleveland woman in 1984.

JoEllen Culp, a spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the state believes its process is legal.

Sharon Tewksbury, whose husband was murdered in a 1983 Colerain Township robbery, said the lawsuit would increase the pain of surviving family members who choose to witness an execution.

"They're obviously trying to get people upset by executions," Tewksbury said Thursday. "I wish they'd be as upset by some of the horrible, heinous things that people who are executed do."

John W. Byrd Jr. was executed in February 2002 for the murder of Monte Tewksbury.

David Bodiker, head of the state public defender's office, said his office is more concerned with the state's practice of drawing a curtain while a doctor examines the body. Culp said the curtain is drawn to protect the doctor's identity.

Bodiker said he's also concerned that during at least one execution - that of Richard Fox in February - witnesses were escorted into the viewing room after the execution was under way.

Prison officials work to ensure that all witnesses are in the viewing chamber in time, Culp said.

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