If officials in Arkansas had their way, yesterday would have been the first of eleven execution days. After more than a decade without performing a single legal execution, the state of Arkansas had planned to administer a lethal injection to eight inmates within a matter of days. However, since scheduling the back-to-back executions, authorities have run into a number of obstacles.
In addition to the many protests that have been held throughout the state, Holy Thursday brought a letter, signed by over 200 faith leaders from all over Arkansas, begging the governor to reconsider. The Arkansas Governor, Republican Asa Hutchinson, scheduled the executions for what some are saying is an unsafe period of time. Even former corrections department officials have gone on the record to advise slowing the schedule on the grounds that rushing this sort of thing increases the chance of mistakes.
The reason behind the rush is the fact that midazolam, a critical component in the 3 drug cocktail used for lethal injections, is set to expire at the end of the month. Should the executions be postponed beyond the end of April, they could be postponed indefinitely, due to shortages in the supply of the necessary drugs. Midazolam is used to induce unconsciousness, reduce anxiety and cause muscle relaxation.
Over the holiday weekend, a federal judge issued an order temporarily staying the executions.
This order came on the heels of another order which had already ordered that certain individual executions planned in Arkansas were to be stayed, and also banning the state from using its lethal injection drug supply. District Judge Kristine Baker wrote, “The threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs is significant: if midazolam does not adequately anesthetize plaintiffs, or if their executions are ‘botched,’ they will suffer severe pain before they die.”
In addition to the court orders, several drug companies have stepped up to petition the court, asking that their products not be used in connection with the death penalty. In one case, McKesson, a pharmaceutical company, has accused the state of Arkansas of misleading them about the reason for purchasing vecuronium bromide, which they intend to use in the executions, and then going back on their promise to return the drugs.
However, the state of Arkansas is determined to overcome these obstacles and go through with the 8 planned executions as quickly as possible. In a statement, released by the office of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, it is said that the inmates’ defense attorneys are taking advantage of the legal system. “In reality — like this entire proceeding — Appellees’ request is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate the judicial process and make it impossible for Arkansas to carry out Appellees’ just and lawful sentences.”
The executions, which are set to take place in pairs, are scheduled as follows:
April 17th: Don Davis (27) and Bruce Ward (32)
April 20th: Lendell Lee (27) and Stacey Johnson (23)
April 24th: Jack Jones (30) and Marcell Williams (24)
April 27th: Jason McGehee (20) and Kenneth Williams (20)
Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is a legal form of punishment in 31 states and also by the federal government. However, Michigan is not one of them. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Michigan became the first English-speaking territory in the world to abolish capital punishment in 1847. Treason remained a crime punishable by the death penalty in Michigan despite the 1847 abolition, but no one was ever executed under that law.”