Ark. governor sets execution dates for 8 inmates
Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled execution dates for eight inmates in an attempt to resume the death penalty after a nearly 12-year hiatus
By Andrew DeMillo
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas' governor on Monday set execution dates for eight inmates over a 10-day period in an attempt to resume the death penalty after a nearly 12-year hiatus, even though the state lacks one of three drugs needed to put the men to death.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed proclamations scheduling double-executions on four days in April for the eight inmates. The quick schedule appears aimed at putting the inmates to death before another one of the state's lethal injection drugs expire, and if carried out would mark the first time in nearly two decades a state has executed that many inmates in a month.
The move comes just days after the state's attorney general told the governor the inmates had exhausted their appeals and there were no more legal obstacles to their executions.
"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 in a statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected the inmates' request to review a state court ruling that upheld Arkansas' lethal injection law. The state Supreme Court on Friday lifted the stay on its ruling, clearing the way for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to request the dates be set.
Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate since 2005 due to legal challenges and difficulties obtaining execution drugs.
The state's supply of potassium chloride — one of three drugs used in lethal injections — expired in January. A prison system spokesman said Monday that the drug hasn't been replaced, but Hutchinson's office said officials were confident they could obtain more.
And the state's supply of midazolam lists an April 2017 expiration date, which pharmacy experts say is commonly accepted to mean the end of the month.
The state's supply of vecuronium bromide expires on March 1, 2018.
The inmates late Friday filed an amended complaint in state court aimed at blocking the executions, again arguing the lethal injection law and the three-drug protocol are unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the inmates argued Monday in a letter to Hutchinson that the state Supreme Court's stay is in place until that complaint is resolved. They said the current protocol "is almost certain to cause the prisoners excruciating suffering."
"We believe it would be a mistake for you to uncritically accept the Supreme Court's opinion as a license to use the current protocol," the attorneys said. "Not only would our clients suffer, but so would our state's image and moral standing in the eyes of the country and the world."
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office said it believed the Supreme Court had lifted its stay, but asked justices Monday to clarify "out of an abundance of caution."
"(The state) seeks to ensure this court agrees that the stay of executions put into effect while the lethal injection case reached and was decided by this case is now extinguished," Rutledge's office said in the filing.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, only Texas has put eight people to death in a month — doing it twice in 1997. Arkansas has had multiple executions in the past, including triple executions in 1994 and 1997. At the time, the state Correction Department said multiple executions reduced stress on prison staff.
But the 2014 botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett was the first of a scheduled double execution. Lockett's execution was halted by the state's prison director after Lockett writhed and groaned on the gurney. He died 43 minutes after the drugs began to flow.
An Oklahoma review team later recommended that at least seven days pass between each execution. The report said a veteran paramedic who placed Lockett's intravenous line had noted a sense of urgency in the air.