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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Arkansas can't find enough volunteers to witness back-to-back executions

Over the course of 10 days in April, Arkansas plans to put to death 8 inmates.

The state code requires that no fewer than 6 "respectable citizens" be present at each execution.

There's one problem: It's having a hard time finding enough volunteers to witness them.

The volunteer pool is apparently thin enough that state Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley invited members of a local Rotary Club to volunteer.

"Temporarily, there was a little laugh from the audience because they thought she might be kidding," Bill Booker, acting president of the Little Rock Rotary Club, told CNN affiliate FOX16. "It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding."

Kelley's "informal efforts" continue, the department told CNN on Friday.

"We remain confident in our ability to carry out these sentences," spokesman Solomon Graves said.


Who watches executions?


The people who are allowed to witness an execution vary by state, said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Typically, family members of the inmate and relatives of the victims are present, he said. Sometimes, a state requires that lay people who have no stake in the case are present, too.

That could be a member of the media or a citizen witness, such as in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Code doesn't require that witnesses vary from execution to execution.

So, it's conceivable that some of the volunteers could witness more than one, Dunham said.

"It's not natural watching the intentional taking of a human life," he said. "It has an emotional impact on people."

And witnessing multiple execution more than just doubles the impact, he said.

"It increases exponentially."

One obstacle at a time


The 8 death row inmates will be put to death between April 17 and April 27, a move that death penalty opponents have called "unprecedented."

The series of execution has been attributed to the state's soon-to-be-expire supply of midazolam, a contentious drug that's been blamed for a spate of botched executions in recent years.

The executions would mark the 1st time since 2005 that Arkansas has put an inmate to death.

Source: CNN, April 1, 2017

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