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U.S. wants McVeigh webcast lawsuit dismissed

Internet company says ban on televising McVeigh's execution is unconstitutional.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department has asked a federal court in Indiana to throw out a lawsuit by a company seeking to webcast the Timothy McVeigh execution, saying there is no First Amendment right to do so.

Entertainment Network Inc., a Florida-based Internet company, filed the suit last week seeking to place on the Internet a live webcast of the execution. ENI had asked the government either to allow ENI to do its own live coverage or to provide ENI a feed of the execution that ENI could send out live.

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Read Timothy McVeigh's agreement with the Coroner of Vigo County, Indiana - March 9, 2001 (FindLaw) (PDF format)*
Entertainment Network, Inc. v. Lappin

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The firm named Harley Lappin, warden of the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, Bureau of Prisons Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, and Attorney General John Ashcroft as defendants.

"The sole issue is whether the media, or any segment thereof, has the First Amendment right to visually record the execution and broadcast it (either live or via delayed broadcast)," the government said in its response. "The answer to this question is simply that no such constitutional right has been established nor does such right exist."

The Justice Department cited a 1977 case in which a federal court in Texas found a news cameraman had no right to film a state execution. In that case the appeals court said the First Amendment "does not extend to matters not accessible to the public generally, such as filming of executions in Texas state prison."

The Terre Haute prison warden said there are four reasons for the federal regulation that says "no photographic or other visual or audio recording of the execution shall be permitted": preventing the sensationalizing of executions, preserving the solemnity of executions, maintaining security and order in the prison system, and protecting the privacy rights of the condemned person, the victims, their families, and those who carry out the execution.

Lappin said that if prison inmates were to see the execution on television or learn about the broadcast, it could lead to a prison disturbance.

"The inmates may well see the execution as 'sport,' which dehumanizes them. When inmates feel that they are dehumanized or devalued as persons, agitation amongst the inmates is frequently fomented [which] can lead to prison disturbances," he said.

In his declaration to the court, the warden also said a public broadcast would violate the privacy of the condemned person, would strip the dignity from other death row inmates, would strip away privacy and dignity from victims and the families, and would "seriously put at risk the safety of those charged with implementing the sentence of death."

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Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Department of Justice
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
Oklahoma State Government
Death Penalty Information Center
U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons

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