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State inmate still set for execution Thursday

November 6, 2012 News Extra

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Corrections Department cannot use curtains or any other method to prevent witnesses from seeing and hearing what transpires in Thursday’s scheduled execution of condemned killer Hubert Michael, a federal judge has ordered.

U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane’s ruling in favor of two newspapers that challenged the state’s execution protocol was issued on the eve of Michael’s clemency hearing today before the state Pardons Board.

Kane’s preliminary injunction, which applies only to Thursday’s execution, says the witnesses must be allowed “full visual and auditory observation” of what goes on. Corrections Department officials are weighing whether to appeal Kane’s ruling, agency spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said Wednesday.

Kane and U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, ruling in separate cases Tuesday and today, also denied both pending requests in federal court for stays of Michael’s execution.

Unless the execution is stayed or the governor grants clemency, state officials plan to give Michael a lethal injection at Rockview State Prison on Thursday night.

Michael pleaded guilty to the July 1993 shooting murder of 16-year-old Trista Elizabeth Eng, after kidnapping her in York County.

Michael, 56, would be the first inmate in 13 years to be executed in Pennsylvania and the fourth since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1972.

State prison rules allow six members of the media to witness executions, along with prison officials, six citizens, four victims’ representatives and the inmate’s spiritual adviser.

The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Patriot-News of Harrisburg argue that they have a First Amendment right to view executions as a surrogate for the public, and that the ability to witness the entire execution is essential to thorough reporting on the process.

Previously, officials have used curtains to block witnesses’ view of the death chamber until after an intravenous line is inserted.