Arkansas counting down to execution killing spree

Racing against a drug expiration date, the state will execute eight men in a 10-day period

Arkansas counting down to execution killing spree


Despite not having executed any of its convicts since 2005, the state of Arkansas will soon start what had been described by the ACLU as “a ghastly assembly line of death.”

One week from today, Arkansas will carry out eight executions in just 10 days, despite massive protest on a state and national level against the decision.

The reasoning behind the rash succession of administered deaths is due to the supply of midazolam, an anaesthetic used as part of the lethal cocktail of drugs, is due to legally expire at the end of April. According to NPR, the sedative, which Arkansas has never used as a means of execution, should render “inmates unconscious so they don’t feel pain from the subsequent drugs that cause death.”

Deadly cocktail

Midazolam has a controversial history, having been linked to a number of botched executions where an inmate, improperly sedated to the effects of the other drugs in their lethal injection, took nearly an hour to die.

The last time two midazolam-using executions were due to be carried out on the same day, in Oklahoma in 2014, the first went so badly that the second was called off.

Several states have been barred by federal courts from injecting the chemical compound, including Mississippi and Ohio, though the Supreme Court Justices upheld the right to use the drug in a 2015 case in a 5-4 decision.

Arkansas’ execution spree, should it take place, will be the most prolific since the Supreme Court of the United States reinstated the death penalty more than four decades ago.

A logistical nightmare

The state could run into major problems with its time schedule, both legally and logistically, as state law mandates that all executions must take place in a prison located in a town with fewer than 900 residents. Every execution must also have the correct number of witnesses, another obstacle in the tight 10-day window.

Arkansas law requires that at least six citizens who don’t know either the victim or the condemned witness each execution, with the state required to find 48 volunteers willing to take part in the exercise. At one point, a state corrections official drove 130km to a Rotary Club meeting to ask for volunteers, finding none.

Furthermore, the paperwork for the executions was only filed in February, affording the eight men waiting on death row very little time to appeal, a violation of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, their lawyers say.

In spite of a national and state outcry against the eight executions, as well as several lawsuits attempting to delay them, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has said that the executions were legally processed and that the inmates had exhausted their legal appeals. The eight men were cumulatively responsible for the deaths of 11 others, and their executions are important “to bring closure to the victims’ families.”

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