- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A state appeals court has ruled that Tennessee must turn over the names of those people involved in executions to attorneys for 11 death row inmates. The inmates are suing over the state’s lethal injection and electrocution procedures, claiming they are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit came to a standstill earlier this year after the state refused to reveal the names of people involved in the procedures, including the pharmacist who will compound the drug used for lethal injections and the supervising physician.

The identities are important to the inmates’ case because they allow the inmates’ attorneys to investigate things like whether those involved in the executions are qualified to carry out their duties.

“Not revealing the information to us is the equivalent of saying trust us we wouldn’t lie to you,” Kelley Henry, who represents some of the inmates, said in an email.

Attorneys for the state argued that Tennessee statute prohibits public disclosure of the identity of “a person or entity who or that has been or may in the future be directly involved in the process of executing a sentence of death.” They offered to provide the inmates’ attorneys with information about the education, training and certifications of those involved in the execution and to let the inmates’ attorneys conduct depositions with them from behind a screen.

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman on Jan. 8 ordered the state to turn over the identities, finding that the information was relevant to the inmates’ case. The state appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which ruled on Monday in favor of the inmates.

The court wrote that the state’s offer to provide some information about the execution participants without revealing their identities would leave the inmates “unable to independently verify this information or subject it to meaningful scrutiny.”

Inmates’ attorney Henry said in an email that the ruling was “measured and reasonable.” The names will be released only to the inmates’ attorneys, who are prohibited from revealing the names to nearly anyone else, including their clients.

Asked whether the state plans to appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Leigh Ann Jones said attorneys there are still reviewing the ruling.

Death row inmate Billy Ray Irick had been scheduled to be executed next week, but the state Supreme Court recently postponed the execution because of the pending legal challenges.

In doing so, the court set out an expedited schedule for any further appeals on the release of the identities and promised to expedite the case in Davidson County Chancery Court as well, so as to get a final ruling as soon as possible.

Tennessee has not executed anyone in nearly five years, thanks to legal challenges to the state’s previous lethal injection procedures and difficulty obtaining at least one of the three lethal injection drugs.

In response, the state adopted a new one-drug lethal injection protocol last year, and earlier this year the General Assembly passed a law allowing prisoners to be electrocuted if Tennessee Department of Correction officials were unable to obtain that drug. The new law made Tennessee the only state that allows use of the electric chair against an inmate’s will.

But the changes also brought the new legal challenges. The Chancery Court lawsuit by Irick and ten others claims, among other things, that the state has no way to ensure the purity and potency of the new lethal injection drug, pentobarbital. The lawsuit also claims that use of the electric chair violates society’s evolving standards of decency and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

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