Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fla. Judge Tosses Reporter Subpoenas

Associated Press Writer

MIAMI (AP) -- A judge on Friday rejected a request from a death row inmate's attorneys to force testimony and get notes from four journalists who covered a botched execution late last year.

Circuit Judge Carven Angel ruled that the attorneys for death row inmate Ian Deco Lightbourne must first seek information from some of the 19 other people who witnessed the execution of Angel Diaz, whose death took 34 minutes - twice as long as normal.

Lightbourne's attorneys are challenging the state's use of lethal injection as unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment. They subpoenaed the four reporters, including one from The Associated Press, to appear at hearings later this month.

The reporters' news organizations asked the judge to block the subpoenas, arguing that Florida law provides a "qualified privilege" protecting journalists from disclosing newsgathering information unless it cannot be obtained another way and is of "compelling interest."

"The judge followed the law," said Alison Steele, attorney for the St. Petersburg Times. "Out of this great number of people, I'm sure the defendant's lawyers will find someone who can talk."

Attorneys for Lightbourne had subpoenaed Ron Word, the AP's correspondent in Jacksonville, who has covered about 50 executions. Other subpoenas were issued for Chris Tisch of the St. Petersburg Times; Phil Long of The Miami Herald; and Nathan Crabbe of The Gainesville Sun.

It remains possible that Lightbourne's lawyers could subpoena the reporters again if they cannot get the necessary testimony from others about the Dec. 13 execution.

Diaz's slower than normal death and need for a rare second dose of chemicals led to an investigation and a temporary suspension of executions in Florida. State officials said this week that executions are likely to resume at the end of the month.

Lightbourne, 47, was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Nancy O'Farrell after breaking into her Marion County home. He has twice been scheduled for execution but won stays to consider his appeals, including one pending before the Florida Supreme Court. Diaz was executed for shooting the manager of a Miami topless club in 1979.

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