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Time Running Out to Halt Arkansas's "Execution Assembly Line"

Governor's plan could lead to "torturing prisoners to death"

The Oklahoma death chamber. (Photo: Josh Rushing/flickr/cc)

Time is running out for lawyers to stop the state of Arkansas from carrying out its plan for an "execution assembly line"—killing seven men within an 11-day span.

The first executions for two of the men, Don Davis and Bruce Ward, are set for the same day, April 17.

The Guardian's Ed Pilkington writes:

On Monday, lawyers for the seven will present a collective case to a federal judge in the eastern district of Arkansas in which they will call for a permanent block on the planned killings which they denounce as "execution by assembly line." In a bold expression of disgust directed at the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, they state: "Our country does not participate in mass executions."

The plan has been met with outrage by civil liberties and human rights groups.

"Arkansas's plan to execute eight men over eleven days obscenely exalts speed over justice," said Christina Swarns, NAACP's Legal Defense Fund's director of litigation.

The short time frame for the state-sanctioned killings, said Hutchinson, is because of the end-of-the-month expiration date on the state's supply of midazolam, one of the three drugs that will be used in the lethal injection cocktail.

The Intercept's Liliana Segura wrote in a lengthy piece outlining the situation:

Attorneys for the condemned have raised particular alarm over the planned use of midazolam, which replaces a longtime anesthetic—sodium thiopental—that became unavailable years ago. Midazolam has a short but grisly track record; a complaint filed in federal court last month points to several executions where the sedative appeared to fail, most recently in Alabama, during the execution of Robert Bert Smith, who heaved and coughed as he died.


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According to Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project, "By racing to use a drug known to play a part in botched executions, the governor risks debasing the state of Arkansas, its citizens, and the very American traditions of justice by torturing prisoners to death."

He adds that "when midazolam is combined with the two other drugs used during the execution—vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride—it produces unspeakable pain before death."

The problematic issues go on.

Best-selling author and former lawyer John Grisham writes in a USA Today op-ed that the men "have court-appointed lawyers," and some "share the same lawyer. It is literally impossible for the lawyers to provide comprehensive representation in the hour when their clients need them the most."

There's also the issue of the state not following a needed safeguard—the clemency process. Grisham writes:

Arkansas is preparing to arbitrarily violate its own policies and laws regarding clemency in order to accommodate this frantic execution schedule. Clemency hearings are required to be held 30 days prior to the execution, with each prisoner allotted a two-hour audience with the board. Some of the [seven] were not able to file their petitions in timeThose who did will be given only one hour. The board will not have the full 30 days for careful deliberation of each case.

Amnesty International, Equal Justice USA, and the ACLU are circulation a petition calling on the governor to stop the "unusual killing spree" because "it violates basic decency and is not justice."

The Associated Press writes: "Judge Kristine Baker, who was appointed to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas by President Barack Obama, will consider the legality of Arkansas' aggressive plan this week."

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