"The execution protocols deprive the public of the information necessary to engage in an informed debate about the most severe penalty the government can impose on its citizens," the suit says.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District one week before Terrance Williams is scheduled to be executed at SCI Rockview in Centre County for the 1984 murder of Amos Norwood in Philadelphia.
A Philadelphia judge said Tuesday that she will decide on Friday whether the execution can proceed. Another appeal is being heard by the state pardons board on Thursday.
Witnesses would not see the demeanors of the prisoner or anyone else in the room, including the executioner, nor does it allow them to see if force is used when the prisoner is strapped to the gurney or if the prisoner displays any signs of pain throughout, the suit says.
Nor does the protocol provide the condemned the opportunity to make a final statement while visible to the witnesses.
The suit is seeking an injunction to compel the state to make the whole process visible from the point the condemned man enters the chamber until he is declared dead.
The protocols are similar to those used in California prisons until 2002, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that they violated the First Amendment rights of the public to witness executions "from the moment the condemned enters the execution chamber through, to and including, the time the condemned is declared dead."
The court reached the same conclusion in an Idaho case this summer.
Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.