Gov­er­nor sets April ex­e­cu­tions for eight

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN MORITZ

Eight Arkansas in­mates were sched­uled to be put to death over 10 days in April in procla­ma­tions is­sued by Gov. Asa Hutchin­son on Mon­day.

Ac­cord­ing to copies of the procla­ma­tions given to the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice, the state plans to con­duct the ex­e­cu­tions in pairs on each of four days start­ing April 17 and end­ing April 27. Arkansas has not ex­e­cuted any­one in more than 11 years be­cause of court chal­lenges and dif­fi­culty in ob­tain­ing lethal

in­jec­tion drugs.

How­ever, it re­mains un­known whether the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion will be able to carry out the ex­e­cu­tions, as the state lacks one of the three drugs in its cur­rent ex­e­cu­tion pro­to­col.

Con­tin­ued le­gal ob­jec­tions also could dis­rupt the sched­ule. Shortly af­ter the procla­ma­tions were is­sued, a fed­eral pub­lic de­fender for the in­mates sent Hutchin­son a let­ter ar­gu­ing that a stay of the ex­e­cu­tions is still in place by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Leslie Rut­ledge’s of­fice con­tended no such stay ex­ists, but nonethe­less filed an emer­gency mo­tion seek­ing clar­ity from the state’s high court.

The ex­e­cu­tions are set to be car­ried out as fol­lowed, ac­cord­ing to the gov­er­nor’s procla­ma­tions: Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward are sched­uled to die on April 17; Ledelle Lee and Stacey John­son, April 20; Mar­cell Davis Wil­liams and Jack Jones Jr., April 24; Ja­son McGe­hee and Ken­neth Wil­liams, April 27.

In a phone call from Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — where the gov­er­nor was leav­ing the week­end’s win­ter meet­ings of the Na­tional Gov­er­nors As­so­ci­a­tion — Hutchin­son said he had spo­ken with prison of­fi­cials and been “as­sured” that the depart­ment was pre­pared to have the drugs nec­es­sary to carry out ex­e­cu­tions in the sched­uled time frame.

How­ever, a spokesman with the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion said Mon­day there had been no change since the state’s sup­ply of potas­sium chlo­ride ex­pired last month. He also said he was un­aware of any ef­forts to find an­other batch.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week de­clined to hear the pris­on­ers’ chal­lenge of the state’s ex­e­cu­tion statutes as amended by Act 1096 of 2015. The U.S. court ac­tion led the Arkansas high court to end its stay on ex­e­cu­tions that was placed af­ter its de­ci­sion to up­hold the law last June. Rut­ledge then sent let­ters Fri­day to the gov­er­nor ask­ing him to set new ex­e­cu­tion dates.

But John Wil­liams, the in­mates’ fed­eral pub­lic de­fender, wrote in his let­ter to Hutchin­son that an ear­lier stay — placed by the state Supreme Court upon its de­ci­sion to hear a state ap­peal of a 2015 Cir­cuit Court de­ci­sion in­val­i­dat­ing a por­tion

of law — re­mains in ef­fect.

Wil­liams and an­other at­tor­ney for the in­mates, Jeff Rosen­zweig of Lit­tle Rock, filed an amended ver­sion of their com­plaint from the ear­lier Cir­cuit Court case on Fri­day, seek­ing an in­junc­tion to block the ex­e­cu­tions on the ar­gu­ment that the pro­to­col set by Act 1096 amounts to cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment.

At the heart of that ar­gu­ment lies mi­da­zo­lam, the first in the se­ries of in­jec­tions in the “three-drug cock­tail,” used for the pur­pose of block­ing the pain caused by the sub­se­quent drugs.

How­ever, the amended com­plaint ar­gues that the ac­tual ef­fect of the drug is “cloak­ing such tor­ture by par­a­lyz­ing the sub­ject as he is burned alive from the in­side.”

Mi­da­zo­lam has been linked to botched ex­e­cu­tions in sev­eral other states, but the U.S. Supreme Court has said that in­mates must come up with other known and avail­able meth­ods of ex­e­cu­tion to chal­lenge the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the drug.

Also a fac­tor in the sched­ul­ing of the ex­e­cu­tions is the state’s sup­ply of mi­da­zo­lam, which is set to ex­pire in April.

If the ex­e­cu­tions are al­lowed to pro­ceed us­ing mi­da­zo­lam, Rosen­zweig said, state of­fi­cials are “prob­a­bly head­ing for the dis­grace of a botched ex­e­cu­tion.”

“I think that’s ask­ing a whole lot of a prison au­thor­i­ties,” Rosen­zweig said of the rapid pace of the sched­uled ex­e­cu­tions. “The idea of killing that many peo­ple in that short a time pe­riod evokes an assem­bly line.”

But in a state­ment from his of­fice, Hutchin­son said it is time to re­sume the process of 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,” the state­ment read.

Com­pared with other South­ern states, Arkansas has gone the long­est pe­riod of time since con­duct­ing an ex­e­cu­tion.

Eric Nance, a con­victed mur­der, was killed in Novem­ber 2005, and since then the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber at Cum­mins Unit in Grady has been dor­mant.

There are cur­rently 34 housed on death row, all of them men.

AP/CLIFF OWEN

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son speaks Satur­day with a re­porter in Wash­ing­ton. Hutchin­son sched­uled on Mon­day ex­e­cu­tion dates for eight in­mates 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.

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