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Death-Penalty Opponents Criticize Arkansas Execution Plans

Groups that oppose the death penalty are critical of Arkansas' plan to execute eight prisoners in 11 days in April. (Wikimedia)
Groups that oppose the death penalty are critical of Arkansas' plan to execute eight prisoners in 11 days in April. (Wikimedia)
March 24, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Despite a decline in states' use of the death penalty in recent years, Arkansas officials are planning an unprecedented string of executions in April.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has scheduled the deaths of eight inmates in 11 days - all convicted of murder - after Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said they had exhausted all appeals.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said no state ever has executed that many people in such a short time. He said Arkansas is trying to get the executions done before part of its supply of lethal drugs expires.

"That is an elective choice that the governor and the attorney general have made," he said, "in order to carry out as many executions as they can with the supply of midazolam they have on hand."

Several anti-death penalty groups have condemned the plan, including the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which calls it "grotesque." Capital punishment has been suspended in Arkansas since 2005, but the governor said victims' families "should not have to wait any longer to get justice."

Midazolam is a sedative, one of three drugs used in a lethal injection. The other two inflict paralysis and stop the heart. Prison officials have said their supply of midazolam expires in April and they are unable to obtain more.

Dunham said the drug has been blamed for botched executions in other states, when people woke up during the process.

"What happens is, you are sedated," he said, "but with a sedative that can put you to sleep but allow you to be jolted back into consciousness when a painful drug is administered."

He said performing that many executions in a short time period also could produce unintended consequences.

"The other risk is the psychological risk to the prison personnel, in participating in so many executions over such a short period of time," he said. "The national organization recommends there be at least a week between executions."

Dunham said the Death Penalty Information Center does not take a position for or against the death penalty, but does oppose the way it currently is being administered.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AR