Death Penalty Sentences Rushed in Arkansas

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Arkansas Death Row Inmates Scheduled for Execution in April: (top row, left to right) Bruce Ward, Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, (bottom row, left to right) Jack Jones, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, and Jason Mcgehee
Source: Jon Herskovitz, “Eight Arkansas Death Row Inmates Sue to Block Executions over 10 Days,” reuters.com, Mar. 27, 2017

33 men are currently imprisoned on Arkansas’ death row and the state planned to execute eight of them by the end of April because Arkansas’ supply of Midazolam will expire at the end of Apr. 2017. Midazolam is one of three drugs used in the state’s lethal injection cocktail and Arkansas currently has enough to execute eight people.

Pharmaceutical companies are no longer manufacturing drugs used for lethal injections, including Midazolam, due to pressure from those who oppose the death penalty.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson stated, “In order to fulfill my duty as Governor, which is to carry out the lawful sentence imposed by a jury, it is necessary to schedule the executions prior to the expiration of that drug.” He elaborated that it is “important to bring closure to the victim’s families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time… [I]t is uncertain as to whether another drug can be obtained [after Apr. 30], and the families of the victims do not need to live with continued uncertainty after decades of review.”

The eight inmates, all sentenced to death between 1990 and 2000, were scheduled for execution within ten days—Apr. 17-27—with two men being executed per day: Bruce Ward and Don Davis on Apr. 17; Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on Apr. 20; Marcel Williams and Jack Jones on Apr. 24; Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams on Apr. 27.

However, the execution of McGehee has been blocked by a federal judge because the state’s schedule does not allow enough time for the clemency petition to go through the system. The judge stated that he may also rule to stop the execution of Jack Jones if his clemency petition is approved by the Parole Board on Friday, Apr. 7. Attorneys have gone to federal court to stop all of the executions, saying the “frantic pace” of the executions increases the likelihood of error.

An inmate has not been executed in Arkansas since Nov. 29, 2005 as a result of legal challenges to the state’s lethal injection procedures. Further problems have plagued the planned April 10-day schedule. A report from the Fair Punishment Project states that “at least five of the eight cases involve a person who appears to suffer from a serious mental illness or intellectual impairment.” The state also is having trouble finding enough witnesses for the executions. According to state law, at least six and no more than 12 people who are 21-years-old or older, do not have felony convictions, are not related to the inmate or victim(s), and are Arkansas residents must be present for each execution.

If Arkansas goes through with the current execution schedule of seven men, the state will have executed more people in 10 days than any state executed in all of 2016, except Georgia, which executed nine men, and Texas, which executed seven men. Alabama executed two men, and Florida and Missouri one man each, for a total of 20 men executed in 2016. This year, six men have been executed in the United States as of Apr. 2017.

Arkansas is one of 32 states that currently have the death penalty, while 18 states ban the practice.


Sources:

Arkansas Department of Correction, “Death Row,” arkansas.gov (accessed Apr. 7, 2017)

Jessica Brand, “Arkansas Is about Execute Eight Men in Eleven Days,” slate.com, Mar. 30, 2017

Andrew Craft, “Execution Witnesses Needed in Arkansas,” foxnews.com, Mar. 24, 2017

Death Penalty Information Center, “Searchable Execution Database,” deathpenaltyinfo.org (accessed Apr. 6, 2017)

Camila Domonoske, “Arkansas Readies for 8 Executions, Despite Outcry over Pace, Method,” npr.org, Mar. 31, 2017

Camila Domonoske, “Federal Judge Blocks 1 of 8 Upcoming Executions in Arkansas,” npr.org, Apr. 6, 2017

Fair Punishment Project, “Prisoners on Arkansas’s Execution List Defined by Mental Illness, Intellectual Disability, and Bad Lawyering,” fairpunishment.org, Mar. 2017

Valerie Richardson, “Arkansas Plans to Execute 8 Convicts in 10 Days with Drug Expiration Looming,” washingtontimes.com, Apr. 5, 2017