Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Arkansas defends unprecedented bid to execute eight in 10 days

Executions have been set for (top row, from left) Kenneth Williams, Jack Jones Jr., Marcell Williams, Bruce Earl Ward, and (bottom row, from left) Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee and Ledelle Lee.
Executions have been set for (top row, from left) Kenneth Williams,
Jack Jones Jr., Marcell Williams, Bruce Earl Ward, and (bottom row, from
left) Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee and Ledelle Lee.
Eight inmates due to be put to death over 10 days next month in Arkansas are making last-ditch bids to halt the unprecedented flurry of executions.

Lawyers for the prisoners say the "assembly-line" of four double lethal injections is unconstitutional.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson last month ordered the death row inmates to be killed before the state's execution drugs expire.

Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005.

No US state has put eight inmates to death in such an accelerated schedule since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

In the latest legal action in the case, one of men, Stacey Eugene Johnson, asked the state's highest court on Wednesday to block his execution so evidence from his murder trial can be retested.

Attorneys for another of the convicted murderers, Bruce Ward, asked a state judge to block his execution, saying the prisoner is not mentally competent.

A group of former corrections officers wrote to the governor on Tuesday to say the pace of the executions threatens prison staff's mental health.

Two other lawsuits filed this week seek preliminary injunctions to halt the executions, arguing the inmates need time to appeal against their convictions.

Lawyers also argue that state authorities are unconstitutionally hurrying the clemency process.

"The state can show no valid reason it cannot schedule executions at a pace that would allow for meaningful review," said one of the lawsuits.

The convicted killers are also asking the US Supreme Court to review a ruling allowing the state to keep its source for the execution drugs a secret.

Arkansas has scheduled the executions for 17, 20, 24 and 27 April, citing a shortage of a drug used in lethal injections.

The state's supply of midazolam, a sedative used in its three-drug lethal injection cocktail, is nearing its expiration date.

The sedative has become increasingly scarce as anti-capital punishment drug-makers refuse to supply it to corrections officials.

Midazolam has been blamed for botched executions in Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona.

Lawyers have argued that use of the sedative amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which is banned under the US constitution.

The condemned prisoners are Bruce Ward, Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee.

The state parole board has recommended clemency requests by Johnson and Lee be rejected. Further parole hearings are due this week.

What did the 8 men do?

  • Bruce Ward - Convicted of 1989 strangling murder of teenage shop clerk Rebecca Doss
  • Don Davis - Condemned for 1990 execution-style killing of Jane Daniel as he burgled her home
  • Stacey Johnson - Found guilty of 1993 murder of Carol Heath, who was beaten, strangled and had her throat slit
  • Ledell Lee - Sentenced to death for 1993 killing of Debra Reese, who was bludgeoned with a tyre iron that her husband had given her for protection
  • Jack Jones - Condemned for 1995 rape and murder of accounts clerk Mary Phillips, and the nearly fatal beating of her 11-year-old daughter
  • Marcel Williams - Sentenced to death for 1994 rape and murder of Stacey Erickson, after kidnapping her from a convenience store
  • Kenneth Williams - Convicted of 1999 murder of farmer Cecil Boren during an escape from prison where Williams had been incarcerated for murdering cheerleader Dominique Hurd
  • Jason McGehee - Jailed for the death of 15-year-old John Melbourne, who had been his friend

Source: BBC News, March 29, 2017

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