"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Arkansas Rushes to Execute 8 Men in the Space of 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.
The state of Arkansas plans to put to death eight inmates over a span of 10 days next month, a pace of executions unequaled in recent American history and brought about by a looming expiration date for a drug used by the state for lethal injections.

The eight men facing execution — four black and four white — are among 34 death row inmates in Arkansas, where capital punishment has been suspended since 2005 over legal challenges and difficulty in acquiring the drugs for lethal injections.

All eight men were convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999, and proponents of the death penalty and victims’ rights in the state have been frustrated that the cases have dragged on so long.

At a news conference this week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican and former federal prosecutor, seemed to regret that the executions were so closely stacked.

“I would love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and years, but that’s not the circumstances that I find myself in,” said Mr. Hutchinson, who took office in 2015. “And, again, the families of the victims that have endured this for so many years deserve a conclusion to it.”

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Hutchinson said that it was necessary to schedule the executions close together because of doubts about the future availability of one of three drugs the state uses in its lethal-injection procedure. State officials have previously said that the expiration date would pass in April for Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, a drug that has been used in several botched and gruesome lethal injections in other states in recent years.

Amid the controversy generated by such cases, a number of pharmaceutical companies have restricted their drugs from use for capital punishment. Some states have had difficultly finding midazolam. Arizona announced last year it would stop using it in part because of the logistical challenges.

“It is uncertain as to whether another drug can be obtained,” Mr. Hutchinson said in the statement, “and the families of the victims do not need to live with continued uncertainty after decades of review.”

This week, the governor signed proclamations setting four execution dates for the eight inmates between April 17 and 27. Two men would be put to death on each of the four dates. If Arkansas follows that timetable, it will be at a rate unmatched by any state since the United States resumed the death penalty in 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research group that opposes capital punishment.

In 1997, Texas came close, putting eight inmates to death in May and again in June, but not over such a short number of days, the group said.

Critics of midazolam’s use in executions say it is a sedative, not an anesthetic, and is thus misapplied as a first round of lethal injection shots, with inmates sometimes able to feel pain from the subsequent lethal drugs that are administered. In one high-profile case in Oklahoma, a convict named Clayton D. Lockett, who was administered midazolam, died 43 minutes after the injections were started and appeared to struggle and moan.

The Arkansas Department of Correction has not refilled its stock of potassium chloride, the third and fatal drug administered in an execution, but a spokesman for Mr. Hutchinson said the governor had confidence the department would acquire it in time for the April executions.

Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that something was more likely to go wrong with so many executions scheduled so close together.

“Each of these prisoners is a person with rights that have to be honored, and each execution is a process that needs to be planned and handled with care and close attention to detail,” he said. “And that’s just impossible for Arkansas on this schedule. Because they’re trying to do too much, too quickly, with too little preparation. It’s likely to lead to botched executions.”

The lawyers for the condemned men say some legal avenues of appeal are still available.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: The New York Times, Matthew Haag, Richard Fausset, March 3, 2017

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