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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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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 -…

Lawyers race to save seven Arkansas inmates from ‘execution by assembly line’

Arkansas' death chamber
Arkansas' death chamber
Death-row prisoners set to die within 11 days of each other in April unless attorneys can convince judge that rushed injections will lead to undue suffering

Lawyers representing seven death row prisoners in Arkansas who are all scheduled to die within 11 days of each other starting next week are entering the final stretch of an epic legal battle in which they try to stop the most intense bout of judicial killings in modern US history.

Should the attorneys fail in their mission, two prisoners, Don Davis and Bruce Ward, will be put to death by lethal injection on 17 April. Three days later it will be the turn of Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, followed by Marcel Williams and Jack Jones on 24 April, and Kenneth Williams on 27 April.

On Monday, lawyers for the seven will present a collective case to a federal judge in the eastern district of Arkansas in which they will call for a permanent block on the planned killings which they denounce as “execution by assembly line”. In a bold expression of disgust directed at the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, they state: “Our country does not participate in mass executions.”

Hutchinson set the execution dates in February, explaining that he needed to kill the inmates in such quick succession in order to deploy the state’s final batch of the sedative midazolam before it expired at the end of April. No state has carried out such a condensed spate of executions in the modern era of the death penalty in the US, which started in 1976 when the nation’s supreme court allowed capital punishment to be revived after a four-year moratorium.

Jeff Rosenzweig, a veteran federal public defender in Arkansas who is a leading player in the legal battle over the upcoming executions, said that midazolam has a history of not working. “This is not speculative. This has in fact not worked on other occasions and is likely to have the same effect on some or all of the eight inmates.”

In addition to the extreme pressure that the governor’s schedule has placed on the execution team, the attorneys representing the condemned men are also under exceptional stress as they struggle to give the inmates crucial legal counsel in what could be the last few days of their lives.

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Source: The Guardian, April 10, 2017

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