UPDATE: Arkansas Bars Media From Using Pen & Paper To Document Executions

Apr 20, 2017

Varner Arkansas Department of Correction Cummins Prison
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

UPDATE 11:30 p.m.: The Department of Correction reversed its policy without explanation and media witnesses will be able to take notes during the execution of Ledell Lee this hour.

ORIGINAL POST: If courts do end up giving the go-ahead on Arkansas’s execution plans, media will have less rights to document the execution than just about anywhere else in the nation. Three members of the media are allowed by the state to witness an execution but officials are banning the use of paper and pencil to take notes – forcing reporters to rely solely on memory.

Correction spokesman Solomon Graves told reporters earlier this week he doesn't think it's a problem.

“I trust your ability to be able to clearly and concisely report what you would have witnessed,” Graves told reporters on Monday following stayed executions.

But Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center says the state’s decision is unusual. He couldn’t think of another state that bans reporters from carrying notepads. Dunham said it’s necessary to get information, like that collected in the 2014 botched execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona.

“Reporters counted the he hacked more than 640 times. That was not something they could have done if they didnt’ have paper and pencil because they were making tick marks each time that he gasped,” Dunham told KUAR, “That illustrates why having paper and pencil, the ability to record information and not have to rely solely on your memory, can be so important.”

Texas, Missouri, and Virginia are the only states that have held executions this year. They all allow media witnesses to document executions. The Director of Public Information for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says his state allows reporters to carry pen and paper.

“We believe it is important to be as transparent and open as possible,” said Director Jason Clark. “The media serves as the eyes and the ears for the public. So we allow them to come in and to witness the execution.”

The state has been unable to provide KUAR with a reason for its policy.

Note: This story was written with the assistance of notes.