Published June 11, 2001
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court without comment Sunday turned down a request to allow the videotaping of Timothy McVeigh's execution.
The request, which had no bearing on McVeigh's case, had come from lawyers for a Pennsylvania man who could face the same method of execution. His lawyers argued the videotape could be helpful in their effort to show lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, and therefore unconstitutional.
The Justice Department asked the high court not to allow the videotaping, saying it would sensationalize the Oklahoma City bomber's death, scheduled for Monday morning. Taping also poses security and privacy problems, agency lawyers said.
"In light of the ubiquitous interest in the Oklahoma City bombing, the mere creation of a videotape of McVeigh's execution would present the government with unique challenges," Acting Solicitor General Barbara Underwood wrote.
The appeal went first to Justice David Souter, who has jurisdiction for matters from Pennsylvania, where a federal appeals court had denied the request. Souter referred the matter to the full court, spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Sunday.
It takes five votes to grant such a last-minute request, but the court did not say how individual justices voted.
The taping request came from lawyers for Joseph Minerd, charged in a 1999 bombing that killed his pregnant former girlfriend and her daughter.
Federal prosecutors have indicated they will seek the death penalty in Minerd's case. If convicted and sentenced to death, Minerd would be executed in the same Terre Haute, Ind., death chamber where McVeigh is scheduled to die for the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people and wounded scores of others.
Minerd's defense team said a tape should be made to document whether the McVeigh execution goes as smoothly as the government says it will. They said the taping could be done unobtrusively, and the footage not released to the public.
"Given the widespread attention on Mr. McVeigh's execution, problems with that execution would demonstrate that no authority could guarantee that execution by lethal injection would go smoothly," Minerd's lawyers wrote in their appeal, filed Saturday.
Richard Kammen, an attorney for Minerd, said Sunday that "the Department of Justice wants to keep this practice private from the American people, which is understandable, but also to the courts, which is not."
In its eight-page response, the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court not to overturn a lower court ruling blocking the taping.
"It is well settled that the lethal injection form of execution passes muster under the Eighth Amendment" to the Constitution, barring cruel and unusual punishment, the Justice filing said.
McVeigh's execution would be the first by the federal government since 1963.