State plans to put eight in­mates to death over 10 days

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY'S TOP NEWS - By An­drew DeMillo As­so­ci­ated Press

LIT­TLE ROCK, ARK. — Af­ter nearly a dozen years with­out an ex­e­cu­tion, Arkansas is racing to put eight men to death next month over a 10-day pe­riod — an un­prece­dented timetable the state says is nec­es­sary be­cause one of the three in­gre­di­ents in the lethal in­jec­tion will soon ex­pire.

If car­ried out, the ex­e­cu­tions be­gin­ning April 17 would make Arkansas the first state to ex­e­cute that many in­mates in such a short time since the death penalty was re­in­stated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.

The ac­cel­er­ated sched­ule calls for prison staff to con­duct four dou­ble ex­e­cu­tions, with only a few days in be­tween. It poses a num­ber of risks, ex­perts say, and the state’s prepa­ra­tions are shrouded in se­crecy.

Some at­tor­neys and an­tideath penalty groups ques­tion whether the quick turn­arounds will in­ten­sify pres­sure on the prison staff and cause prob­lems, as hap­pened in Oklahoma in 2014, when an in­mate writhed and moaned on a gur­ney for 43 min­utes af­ter his in­jec­tion, or in Ari­zona, where the fa­tal dose took nearly two hours to work.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Oklahoma found that in­tra­venous lines had been con­nected im­prop­erly, in part be­cause of the “ex­tra stress” from the state’s sched­ul­ing of two ex­e­cu­tions on the same day.

“The stress on the prison and med­i­cal staff will be in­creased, and the risk of mak­ing mis­takes is mul­ti­plied,” said Dale Baich, an as­sis­tant fed­eral pub­lic de­fender who wit­nessed in­mate Joseph Ru­dolph Wood’s slow death in Ari­zona in 2014. “This, along with us­ing a drug that has been used in nu­mer­ous botched ex­e­cu­tions, should make the prison of­fi­cials in Arkansas very ner­vous.”

At the heart of the rush is the short­age of the seda­tive mi­da­zo­lam, which is used to put an in­mate to sleep be­fore re­ceiv­ing the lethal chem­i­cals. The Arkansas sup­ply ex­pires at the end of April, and it’s un­clear whether the state will be able to find more. Drug­mak­ers have stopped sell­ing it to U.S. prisons be­cause they ob­ject to their prod­ucts be­ing used in ex­e­cu­tions.

“As states had more and more prob­lems in car­ry­ing out ex­e­cu­tions, their re­sponse has not been to fix the prob­lems but to hide be­hind se­crecy to pre­vent those prob­lems from be­ing dis­closed,” said Robert Dun­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said he’s in­quired about the ef­fect of the se­quence of deaths on prison staff, but said Corrections Depart­ment Di­rec­tor Wendy Kel­ley told him “it’s not any eas­ier to string it out over four or five months.”

The eight in­mates are still try­ing to force the state to iden­tify the sup­pli­ers of the lethal drugs, but their con­fi­den­tial­ity is legally pro­tected.

Ad­vo­cates for vic­tims’ fam­i­lies bris­tle at the no­tion that the ex­e­cu­tions are be­ing rushed.

“These peo­ple have been wait­ing for 25 or 30 years. That’s not quick,” said Elaine Col­cla­sure, whose hus­band was killed by Alvin Jackson, a death row in­mate who’s not among those sched­uled for ex­e­cu­tion next month.

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