ST. LOUIS — A federal appeals court on Tuesday signed off on allowing pornography publisher Larry Flynt to join a lawsuit seeking to force Missouri to disclose more details of its execution methods, reversing a lower court's ruling that the Hustler magazine founder lacked standing to intervene.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis found that a federal district judge applied the incorrect legal standard in ruling that Flynt's "generalized interest" in the lawsuit, originally filed by death row inmates, did not justify his being part of the case.
Flynt, 72, opposes capital punishment and through the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri sought to join the case shortly before the November 2013 execution in Missouri of Joseph Paul Franklin for a 1977 sniper attack that killed a 42-year-old father of three at a St. Louis-area synagogue.
Franklin was a white supremacist who admitted to shooting Flynt in a 1978 attack in Georgia that left Flynt paralyzed from the waist down. Franklin was convicted of eight murders in Wisconsin, Ohio, Utah, Tennessee and Missouri but was never charged in Flynt's shooting.
It was not immediately clear whether the state of Missouri, which opposed Flynt's request, planned to appeal Tuesday's ruling. Eric Slusher, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster's spokesman, said in an email to The Associated Press that Koster's office was reviewing the 8th Circuit's opinion.
A coalition of more than a dozen news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, pressed the 8th Circuit in January to let Flynt join the lawsuit, although those media organizations aren't a part of it.
In seeking to join the suit, Flynt said he wanted the court to unseal 20 docket entries from the underlying effort to learn more details about the state's execution protocol.
Before Franklin's execution, Missouri had planned to become the first state to put an inmate to death using the anesthetic propofol, until an outcry from the medical community helped scrap that approach.
Most propofol is made in Europe, and the European Union threatened to limit exports if it was used in an execution. Missouri subsequently switched to the anesthetic pentobarbital. Flynt's motion claimed too few details about that switch were released to the public, including the identity of the compounding pharmacy that provides the drug to the state.
"A state's execution protocol should never be hidden from the public by sealing court documents," Jeffrey Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri's executive director, said Tuesday in an email. "When Missouri kills people in our name, the public must know if the manner is ethical, or cruel and unusual."
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