Death Penalty Critic Sues to Witness Executions

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

  • Journalist’s suit survives motion to dismiss
  • Wants state to set policy for witness selection

Journalist and death penalty critic Christopher McDaniel can continue his case to be allowed to witness executions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held July 27.

BuzzFeed News reporter McDaniel has a legally protected interest in witnessing executions, the court said in an opinion by Judge Steven M. Colloton.

McDaniel’s ability to do his job is impeded by the Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe’s failure to respond to his application to serve as a witness, the court said.

Missouri requires the attendance of “at least eight reputable citizens” at executions.

Precythe has “unbridled discretion” to deny access on the basis of a potential witness’s views on capital punishment, press activity, or organizational memberships, McDaniel claims. The process enables discrimination based on viewpoint and retaliation for First Amendment protected activity, he claims.

The department must establish a policy that limits the director’s discretion, he contends.

The case now goes back to the district court for further proceedings.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation represented McDaniel. The Missouri Attorney General’s office represented the state.

The case is McDaniel v. Precythe, 2018 BL 266949, 8th Cir., 17-1055, 7/27/18.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alisa Johnson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at