Ex­e­cu­tions in limbo over ac­cess to drugs

Fir­ing squad called hu­mane al­ter­nate

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The fi­nal ex­e­cu­tion in Arkansas’s con­densed April timetable was sched­uled for Thurs­day night, but it could be months or even years be­fore the state is able to carry out an­other one.

The Arkansas De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tion has been un­able to pro­cure ad­di­tional doses of mi­da­zo­lam, the seda­tive in its three-drug pro­to­col, to re­place those that ex­pire Sun­day, a dilemma faced by a grow­ing num­ber of states as phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies balk at hav­ing their prod­ucts used for ex­e­cu­tions.

The re­sult is that Arkansas, which had not ex­e­cuted an in­mate since 2005 as a re­sult of a le­gal bat­tle that was re­solved Feb. 21, may have no choice but to change the way it puts pris­on­ers to death, said Robert Dun­ham, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

“States are faced with sev­eral choices, most of them prob­lem­atic,” Mr. Dun­ham said. “They can con­tinue to try to ob­tain the lethal in­jec­tion drugs they cur­rently use; change their ex­e­cu­tion pro­to­col to per­mit the use of other drugs; change the method of ex­e­cu­tion; do noth­ing; or re­peal the death penalty. We’ve seen states fol­low each of th­ese ap­proaches.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son set eight ex­e­cu­tions to run from April 17-27 in or­der to beat the ex­pi­ra­tion date, which would have been the most in an 11day time pe­riod since the death penalty was re­in­stated in 1976.

It didn’t work out that way: Four of the eight pris­on­ers won stays of ex­e­cu­tions or de­lays. Three in­mates were put to death as sched­uled. That left 30 in­mates on Arkansas’ death row.

One of those, 38-year-old Ken­neth Wil­liams, was slated to be put to death at 7 p.m. Thurs­day at the Cum­mins unit, which would make him the fourth Arkansas in­mate to die this month.

Wil­liams was sen­tenced to death for the mur­der of farmer Ce­cil Boren af­ter break­ing out of prison. Dur­ing his es­cape, Wil­liams crashed Boren’s truck into that of a wa­ter-de­liv­ery driver, Michael Green­wood, killing him as well.

He had been serv­ing a life sen­tence for the 1998 kid­nap­ping and killing of Dominique Hurd, a Univer­sity of Arkansas at Pine Bluff stu­dent. Wil­liams later con­fessed in prison to com­mit­ting an­other mur­der in 1998.

Green­wood’s daugh­ter Kayla Green­wood bought plane tick­ets for Wil­liams’ 21-year-old daugh­ter Jas­mine and 3-yearold grand­daugh­ter so that they could see him be­fore he died, the Spring­field News-Leader re­ported.

“I told him we for­give him and where I stood on it,” said Ms. Green­wood, who sent a mes­sage to Wil­liams through his at­tor­ney. “When he found out that we are bring­ing his daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ter to see him and that my mom and dad bought the tick­ets, he was cry­ing to the at­tor­ney.”

Robert Blecker, pro­fes­sor at New York Law School and a pro­po­nent of the death penalty, has ad­vo­cated for states to change their method of ex­e­cu­tion from lethal in­jec­tion to fir­ing squad, say­ing the use of drugs is too clin­i­cal and morally am­bigu­ous.

But the fir­ing squad has an­other ad­van­tage: No such ex­e­cu­tion has ever been botched, ac­cord­ing to Amherst Col­lege pro­fes­sor Austin Sarat in his 2014 book, “Grue­some Spec­ta­cles: Botched Ex­e­cu­tions and Amer­ica’s Death Penalty.”

On the other hand, “lethal in­jec­tion had the high­est rate of botched ex­e­cu­tions,” at 7.12 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a graphic pre­pared by the DPIC.

Lethal in­jec­tion drugs have also been chal­lenged re­peat­edly in court over al­le­ga­tions that they cause pain or fail to work as de­signed on all in­mates.

This month in Arkansas, for ex­am­ple, at­tor­neys ar­gued that the three-drug pro­to­col would be in­ef­fec­tive and re­sult in suf­fer­ing for two over­weight pris­on­ers who suf­fered from di­a­betes. One of the in­mates weighed about 400 lbs., and the other had had his leg am­pu­tated.

Courts re­jected their ap­peals, and the in­mates were put to death as sched­uled on Mon­day in the first back-to-back ex­e­cu­tion in any state since 2000.

Given the prob­lems with drug pro­to­cols, Mr. Blecker said states may even­tu­ally re­turn to the fir­ing squad. The prob­lem then be­comes what to do about in­mates al­ready sen­tenced to die by lethal in­jec­tion who in­sist upon it.

“Here’s how I en­vi­sion the scene play­ing out: They get smart and they get right morally, and they change the method to the fir­ing squad,” said Mr. Blecker. “But then th­ese guys chal­lenge it, say­ing, ‘We have a right to be lethally in­jected, and you can’t lethally in­ject us be­cause you can’t get the drug.’”

States have also looked into cre­at­ing their own phar­ma­cies and com­pound­ing their own drugs, al­though Mr. Blecker said the ar­gu­ment then be­comes that “there’s no as­sur­ance it’s safe, etc.”

Then there’s the prob­lem with pub­lic opin­ion. Mr. Dun­ham pointed to a 2015 YouGov poll show­ing that all meth­ods of ex­e­cu­tion were viewed as cruel and un­usual — ex­cept lethal in­jec­tion.

“While most Amer­i­cans do not con­sider lethal in­jec­tion to con­sti­tute cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment, most be­lieve that all of the other ex­e­cu­tion meth­ods are,” Mr. Dun­ham said.

● This story was based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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