Ark. execution drug expiring, governor says find more

Governor wants the DOC to find a new supply of the drug rather than use another method allowed under a law passed last year

By Claudia Lauer
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas' stockpile of a paralytic drug needed for the executions of eight death row inmates expires as the calendar changes to July, leaving the state without a means to conduct its first executions in a decade.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he wants the Department of Correction to find a new supply of the drug rather than use another method allowed under a law passed last year.

That law requiring the state to keep information about the drugs confidential was upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court last week. The state has not executed an inmate since 2005.

Now the state must focus on finding a new supplier.

Waiting on a Mandate
The 4-3 ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court upholding the secrecy law won't go into effect until July 11. Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the inmates who brought the constitutional challenge to the secrecy law and three-drug protocol, has said he plans to file a petition for rehearing before that mandate is issued. No petition had been filed as of Thursday.

If the mandate is issued, the stay on the eight executions would be lifted. At that point, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she would do her duty and ask Hutchinson to set new dates for the executions.

Hutchinson outlined the process Thursday but did not say whether he would set the execution dates if the Department of Correction didn't have the drug supply on hand.

"That's something I will address once I get the notification from the attorney general," Hutchinson said.

In Seach of Drugs
In October, the Department of Correction said in court documents that the unnamed supplier of the original batches of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride would not supply more when they expired. It's unclear whether the ruling would change the company's decision.

The vecuronium bromide has a June 30 expiration date. The other two drugs expire in 2017.

The court documents detailed several attempts to acquire drugs from more than five other suppliers. All of those attempts failed because of manufacturer policies that prohibit the sale or use of their drugs in executions, something that has largely been responsible for the stalled executions in Arkansas.

Hutchinson said he wants the department to find a new supplier to implement the three-drug protocol because it has survived a court challenge.

"I am confident because of the Supreme Court decision and the confidentiality that is assured, it will be a much easier or a more likely possibility," he said.

Department spokesman Solomon Graves said the agency will disclose when it obtains new drugs. He did not immediately answer an email requesting the department's current inventory of drugs.

The law allows Arkansas to use a one-drug protocol— a barbiturate— or to seek drugs from an accredited compounding pharmacy.

Other states have successfully obtained drugs from compounding pharmacies, but those pharmacies often face less government scrutiny than a pharmaceutical company and could trigger yet another legal challenge in Arkansas.

Legislative Solutions
When Rep. Doug House sponsored the execution secrecy law in 2015, his goal was to allow lethal injections to resume in the state.

"There's no joy or passion about the court ruling that came down last week," the Republican said. "We are fulfilling a prescribed duty"

House said if he had to support an alternative method he would opt for the electric chair, although he still felt lethal injections were the most humane way to perform an execution.

"Electrocution actually fries the body like a piece of bacon. It's very distasteful to the staff and to the family of the inmate that has to receive that body," he said.

GOP Rep. Rebecca Petty said she's working on legislation that would provide an alternative method if the blockade for lethal injection is not lifted. Karl Roberts, the man convicted of killing Petty's 12-year-old daughter Andria Brewer, is one of 35 men currently on death row in Arkansas.

"I absolutely think there should be an alternative method," she said. "I've been researching methods that would be humane. It's not about making someone suffer but it's about justice and doing what the jury recommended."

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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