|Death Chamber From Witness Area, Cummins Unit, Grady, Arkansas|
A state law requires that at least six people witness an execution to ensure that the state’s death penalty laws are properly followed. But so far, finding that many people has proved difficult, prompting the director at the Department of Correction to take the extraordinary step of personally asking for volunteers.
A department spokesman declined to say whom the director, Wendy Kelley, has approached for help, but she has extended invitations at least to members of the Little Rock Rotary Club, according to news reports. Ms. Kelley made the request, which the members initially thought was a joke, after delivering a keynote address on Tuesday.
“You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21,” Ms. Kelley told the members, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “So if you’re interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office.”
Bill Booker, a Rotary Club member, said some people in the audience briefly laughed at her remarks. “It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding,” he told KARK-TV, an NBC affiliate in Little Rock.
The spokesman for the Department of Correction, Solomon Graves, declined to describe the response Ms. Kelley had received to her requests. “We continue to be confident in our ability to carry out these sentences on the dates set by the governor,” Mr. Graves wrote in a text message on Friday.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas last month scheduled the executions of eight men — four black and four white, and all convicted of murder — from April 17 to 27. Two men will be executed on each of four execution dates within that time.
The dates were placed so closely together because of another logistical issue: Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, a sedative used in a three-drug injection method, has an expiration date at the end of April.
Capital punishment has been suspended in Arkansas since 2005 because of legal challenges and the difficulty in acquiring lethal-injection drugs. The state tried to restart its capital punishment system in 2015 and set dates for that year, but appeals forced the postponement of the executions.
The state law requires six to 12 “respectable citizens” to be present, and Ms. Kelley told the Rotary Club that the state also struggled in 2015 to find enough witnesses for the executions before they were suspended.
⏩ Related content: Arkansas hunting for volunteers to witness April's 8 executions, March 22, 2017
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