April 9, 2017

Arkansas to execute seven

Intercept - On April 17, the state of Arkansas plans to kill Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward, two men who have been on death row since the early 1990s. Neither has applied for clemency. Both will die on the same gurney, back to back, if all goes according to plan. Executioners will start by injecting them with a sedative called midazolam, never before used by the state, but which is supposed to render them unconscious for the two lethal drugs to follow. No one, apart from a handful of officials, knows where the drugs will come from, or who exactly will do the injecting. Those are secrets under the law. Most importantly, no one knows how well the midazolam will work, if it works at all. After nearly 12 years without a single execution, Arkansas is embarking on a kind of human experiment.

If there are risks to this plan, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchison has wasted little time contemplating them. Three nights after the double execution, Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson are scheduled to die the same way, on April 20, followed by another two men, Marcel Williams and Jack Jones Jr., on April 24. Finally, if all goes according to plan, Kenneth Williams will be executed on the 27th. An eighth man, Jason McGehee, was supposed to die with him, but this week he was granted a reprieve. As it now stands, seven men will die in the Arkansas death house this month, over the course of 11 days.

The sudden rush to execute stems from a practical dilemma: Arkansas’s supply of midazolam is set to expire at the end of the month. If the governor lets that happen, officials will have to find a new supply of drugs for lethal injection, an increasingly challenging task that has kept executions on hold for years. In the years since the state’s last execution, officials seem to be getting rusty, even when it comes to basic PR. Facing a shortage of necessary witnesses for its upcoming executions, Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelly asked startled members of a Little Rock rotary club last month if anyone would be willing to attend the executions. “It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding,” one man said.

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