Currently, a curtain is drawn at several points during the procedure when prison staffers involved in the execution are in the chamber.
The commonwealth filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing there was no First Amendment right to witness an execution and that a full viewing would expose the employees involved in the execution to possible harassment or threats.
In arguments Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane, Department of Corrections attorney Tim Gates said, "There is no First Amendment right to access executions, period."
Paul Titus, an attorney with Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, the firm representing the newspapers, countered that there was a fundamental right for the media, as the eyes and ears of the public, to view the entire procedure.
"There is a strong societal interest in the death penalty," Titus said. "It's almost Orwellian to say you should do this behind closed doors. Whether you're for the death penalty or not, the public is entitled to know."
The newspapers filed suit ahead of the scheduled Oct. 3 execution of Terrance Williams, convicted in the 1984 bludgeoning death of a Philadelphia man.
Williams was to be the first inmate put to death in Pennsylvania in 13 years, but his execution was stayed by a Philadelphia judge.
Hubert Michael, convicted in the 1993 killing of a York teenager, is scheduled to die on Nov. 8.
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