|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.
For more than a decade, the state of Arkansas did not put to death a single condemned inmate. Next month, it will execute 8.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson moved this week to reactivate the state's death chamber after a request by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to go ahead with the sentences. The governor ordered the executions on Monday.
No inmate in the state of Arkansas has been put to death since convicted killer Eric Randall Nance died by lethal injection more than 11 years ago. Following his execution, the state's death chamber remained dormant amid legal and operational challenges.
The effective deactivation of capital punishment in Arkansas represented an abrupt halt in the state's practice, and followed a period in which nearly 30 inmates were executed between 1990 and Nance's death in November 2005.
Aside from legal maneuvers that argued capital punishment is unconstitutional, the state's department of correction has also had difficulties obtaining the necessary drugs to carry out executions -- an obstacle several states have encountered in recent years.
Hutchinson's reasoning for ordering the executions of all 8 death row inmates before May appears to stem from the fact that the state's supply of midazolam -- 1 of 3 drugs used in the lethal mixtures -- expires at the end of April. The drug has received intense scrutiny over claims it is often ineffective and has directly contributed to multiple cruelly botched executions.
Most compound pharmacies that in the past sold midazolam to states for executions have stopped making it available, on ethical grounds, leaving most prisons departments without a source for the powerful sedative.
The men marked for death -- at an unprecedented rate of 2 per day for 4 days -- are Don Davis, Bruce Earl Ward, Ledelle Lee, Stacey Johnson, Marcell Williams, Jack Jones, Jr., Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams. Davis and Ward are scheduled for April 17, Lee and Johnson on April 20, Williams and Jones on April 24 and McGehee and Williams on April 27.
"The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is outraged by ... plans to carry out 8 executions within the span of 10 days in April," the group said. "This planned mass execution is grotesque."
Attorneys for the men have so far unsuccessfully appealed to state and federal courts seeking a stay of execution. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the inmates' arguments that Arkansas' execution statutes, amended in 2015, are unlawful. After that refusal, Arkansas' high court promptly ended a stay it granted last summer and Rutledge asked Hutchinson to schedule the death sentences.
"This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law, but it is also important to bring closure to the victims' families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time," Hutchinson said.
An amended challenge from the inmates' lawyers, filed last week, claims that states' uses of midazolam do not have the intended effect during executions, saying the drug masks "torture by paralyzing the subject as he is burned alive from the inside." It is intended to sedate the prisoner before 2 more drugs are introduced to paralyze and kill them. The 2nd drug, pancuronium bromide, paralyzes the inmate and the 3rd, potassium chloride, stops the heart.
"Unless the prisoner is unconscious, then drugs 2 and 3 will cause pain -- torturous punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and state guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment," Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the prisoners, said.
The Supreme Court refused to hear the challenges because it previously stipulated that any legal challenge opposing a state's use of midazolam in lethal injections must identify other available chemicals that can be used instead.
Rosenzweig said there's a high probability that a botched execution will happen if Arkansas goes through with the sentences next month.
"The idea of killing that many people in that short a time period evokes an assembly line," he said.
Source: United Press International, March 4, 2017
Midazolam in executions lineup
The sleep-inducing drug that would be the 1st of 3 used to kill 8 Arkansas inmates next month has been the subject of lawsuits and national ethics debates after some botched executions in several states.
The contention, by the inmates' attorneys as well as death penalty opponents, is that midazolam is inadequate at blocking the pain caused by the subsequent drugs used to kill -- vecuronium bromide, a paralytic that inhibits breathing, and potassium chloride, to stop the heart.
In bungled executions using midazolam in recent years in Oklahoma, Ohio, Arizona and Alabama, the condemned prisoners eventually died, but the prolonged procedures lasted from 30 minutes to nearly 2 hours.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has successfully defended the state's 3-drug protocol, established by Act 1096 of 2015, in the state's highest court.
In late February, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the state's prisoners, prompting Gov. Asa Hutchinson to schedule the executions for mid-April.
Lawmakers and Arkansas officials pushing for the executions to proceed have noted that it has been more than a decade since the state carried out its highest form of punishment, leaving the victims' families in limbo.
In court documents, attorneys for Rutledge's office pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court precedent that prisoners must provide a "known and available" alternative to the midazolam protocol when protesting its use.
A spokesman for Rutledge declined to make her available for comment for this article, citing the possibility of further legal challenges by the inmates.
"The concerns you read about are always, 'It may, or it maybe or it could," said Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock, who sponsored the legislation that became Act 1096. "No expert has ever come out and said it doesn't work."
Midazolam belongs to the class of drugs called benzodiazepines, a group of psychoactives. The best-known of these is Valium, used to treat anxiety.
Beyond its link to executions, midazolam is widely known in the medical field for its general use as a sedative, and occasionally for inducing anesthesia, according to Dr. Joseph Sanford, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Working on receptors in the brain, Sanford said, midazolam causes "hypnosis and amnesia," meaning it will make the patient sleepy and prevent him from forming memories, with doses of as much as 2 milligrams. For the average patient, 14 milligrams would be enough to put him out for 80 minutes, he said.
Because it is not an anesthetic, Sanford said, when midazolam is used to put patients under for surgery, it is usually combined with a pain reliever -- often an opiate -- to prevent the physical reactions associated with pain.
"Midazolam does not block pain," Sanford said.
Before the introduction of midazolam in death penalty procedures in 2013, many states -- Arkansas 1 of them -- used barbiturates as either the 1st in a 3-drug cocktail or as the sole drug in lethal injections, according to Megan McCracken, an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
As U.S. manufacturers of those drugs shut down and European providers refused to sell them to prisons, many states switched to midazolam, McCracken said. While barbiturates are still legal as a single-drug method of execution in Arkansas, court filings indicate that the state has had little success in procuring them.
In 2014, Oklahoma's execution of Clayton Lockett, using midazolam as the 1st of 3 drugs, took 43 minutes. It was later discovered that paramedics and a doctor struggled to properly place an IV line in Lockett, according to the Tulsa World.
Several months later, Arizona executed Joseph Wood using a mixture of midazolam and an opiate, hydromorphone, as the 1st injection. That execution also went awry, according to news reports and Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, who was a witness to the death.
"After 10 minutes or so, his mouth opened wide, and he gasped," Baich told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "He was gulping and gasping and struggling to breathe, and that went on for the next hour and 47 minutes."
Last year, Arizona agreed to stop using midazolam in its lethal injections. Oklahoma executed another inmate using midazolam in 2015 but has not carried out the death penalty since.
The lack of a different drug may affect Arkansas' ability to carry out the 8 executions next month.
The Department of Correction's batch of potassium chloride -- the final dose of the 3-drug protocol -- expired in January, and officials have yet to announce a new supply. However, Hutchinson told reporters last week that he was confident the drug could be obtained before April 17, when the first 2 executions are scheduled.
Under Hutchinson's schedule, the executions will be carried out in pairs over a period of 10 days. McCracken said she is concerned that the pace of the executions will put pressure on prison officials, increasing the likelihood of a botched execution.
Hutchinson told reporters that he was left with no choice other than to schedule the executions in quick order.
Arkansas has not executed anyone since 2005, in part because of legal challenges and the difficulty in obtaining execution drugs. Hutchinson said that has created a "backlog" on death row. There is also a small window of time to carry out the executions before the prison's supply of midazolam expires at the end of April.
"I'd love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and years, but that's not the circumstances that I find myself in," Hutchinson said. "The families of the victims that have endured this for so many years deserve this conclusion."
Citing the deaths of Lockett and Wood, as well as prolonged executions in Alabama and Ohio, the Arkansas inmates filed an amended appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court last week seeking to have the midazolam protocol declared "cruel and unusual punishment."
Their pleas -- citing testimony from an Oklahoma State University pharmacology professor -- claims midazolam fails to negate the experiences of "pain, panic and suffocation" from the subsequent paralytic, followed by the "burning pain" of potassium chloride.
The state's execution protocol specifies that the condemned be given two doses of midazolam totaling 500 milligrams. Sanford, the UAMS anesthesiologist, said that at that level, the normal effects of the sedative would be "profound," but it would be impossible to say what the experience would be like when combined with the subsequent lethal drugs.
"Whether the patient still experiences pain under anesthesia is still an area of active research, surprisingly," Sanford said.
Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 3, 2017
Arkansas plan to execute 8 men over 10 days 'unprecedented'
8 men are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas in the space of just 10 days, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office.
The state -- which has not put anyone to death for 11 years -- plans to execute the men in pairs between April 17 and April 27.
"This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law," Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement sent to CNN on Thursday. "But it is also important to bring closure to the victims' families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time."
So many executions in such a short amount of time is "unprecedented" in the United States, a spokesman for a group that monitors US executions said.
Since the resumption of the use of the death penalty in 1977, only twice has a state conducted 8 executions in a single calendar month, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. That was Texas in May and June of 1977. But,"No state has ever conducted 8 executions over a 10-day period," Dunham said.
31 states currently administer the death penalty and lethal injection is the primary means of execution in all of them. The number of executions carried out in the United States fell to a 25-year low in 2016.
Death penalty opponents were quick to criticize the planned executions.
"The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (ACADP) is outraged by ... plans to carry out 8 executions within the span of 10 days in April," the organization said. "This planned mass execution is grotesque and unprecedented."
Attorneys for the 8 men are attempting to block the executions.
They argue that Midazolam -- the drug used to render inmates unconscious before they are given 2 more drugs that paralyze and kill them -- does not effectively keep those being executed from experiencing a painful death.
The 2nd drug, pancuronium bromide, paralyzes the inmate. The 3rd, potassium chloride, brings on cardiac arrest and stops the heart.
"Unless the prisoner is unconscious, then drugs 2 and 3 will cause pain -- torturous punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and state guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment," said Jeffrey Rosenzweig, an attorney for 3 of the inmates.
He pointed to what he said were "botched executions" in several states that also involved Midazolam.
Most recently an execution in Alabama rekindled the debate regarding lethal injection. During his execution, Ronald B. Smith, reportedly "appeared to be struggling for breath and heaved and coughed and clenched his left fist," according to reporting by AL.com.
Reports also have emerged from executions in Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona that inmates visibly struggled -- and possibly woke up -- after the final two injections were administered. "Midazolam may put you to sleep initially," Dunham told CNN, "but it doesn't render you insensate."
Dunham said the succession of so many executions raises the risk of something going wrong.
"To attempt 8 executions with Midazolam -- including 4 multiple executions -- is unheard of and reckless," Dunham told CNN.
Rosenzweig said the attorneys have also asked for clarification of whether or not a previously granted stay of execution is still in effect in Arkansas.
The stay was put in place while nine inmates asked the US Supreme Court to review an Arkansas Supreme Court decision to uphold the statutes that outline the state's execution protocol.
The high court declined to hear the case last week, and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said at the time in a press release that the decision cleared the path for executions to resume.
Supply of "heart-stopping" drug expired last month
It remains unclear whether or not the Arkansas Department of Corrections will be able to go ahead with the executions as planned.
Rosenzweig said any of the inmates could file last-minute challenges or appeals. The state also is missing one of the drugs required in the execution procedure.
According to Solomon Graves, a spokesman for the state corrections' department, Arkansas' supply of potassium chloride -- the final drug to be administered -- expired last month. But Gov. Hutchinson's spokesman, JR Davis, said the governor "is confident in the department's ability to procure the expired drug."
Graves also said that the state's supply of Midazolam is set to expire in April 2017. Critics including the ACADP say the state is racing to execute the inmates before the drug expires. "This expiration date is directly linked to the state's urgency to execute 8 men in 10 days," the ACADP said.
Arkansas code allows execution by electrocution if the state is unable to use lethal injection, though Rosenzweig thinks that would be difficult. "I think the general consensus is electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment," he said. "If they attempt to do that, that's going to engender other challenges."
The controversy surrounding the use of Midazolam has been brewing for several years.
In 2010, European drug manufacturers began to ban exports of the cocktail ingredients to the United States.
The following year, concerned about the use of sodium thiopental in executions, Illinois-based Hospira stopped making the drug, and Denmark-based Lundbeck banned US prisons from using its pentobarbital.
The United Kingdom also introduced a ban on exporting sodium thiopental, and the European Union also has taken an official stance -- by approving trade restrictions on goods used for capital punishment and torture.
States have since turned to Midazolam as a substitute, but Dunham said there is no clear reason why. "There has been a herd mentality when it comes to execution drugs and procedures," he said, and after one state was able to carry out an execution using Midazolam, others followed.
Source: CNN, March 3, 2017
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