State of Arkansas Plans Murderous Killing Spree In April

The state of Arkansas is about to undertake an unthinkably brutal task that will traumatize everyone involved. Governor Asa Hutchinson has scheduled the execution of eight death row inmates over a period of eleven days.

The reason for the breakneck speed? The state’s supply of midazolam, the drug used in lethal injections, will expire at the end of April. It will be almost impossible to replace because pharmaceutical companies and foreign governments are refusing to sell it to US corrections departments.

The human toll from such an action — beyond the inmates — is alarming professionals around the country. Jennifer Moreno, an attorney with the Berkeley Law death penalty clinic, told The Guardian that the situation is rife with the possibility of errors. She captured the impact with these words:

The people who will make up the execution team will be called upon to take part in the killing of an otherwise healthy human being, under intense scrutiny and pressure, in a process that they have little to no prior experience with, using a drug that has not been used before for executions in this state. And then they are going to be asked to do it again. And then come back to work and do it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And finally again, for the eighth time.

Twenty-three former corrections officials from a variety of states sent a letter to Gov. Hutchinon, imploring him to reconsider. These officers have participated, directly or indirectly, in the executions of inmates. They are fully aware of the consequences for the execution team of participating in even one inmate death, much less a rapid series of eight — consequences that include PTSD, recurring nightmares, and suicide attempts.

Dr. Allen Ault, a former commissioner of the department of corrections in Georgia, has relived the five deaths he ordered numerous times, especially in nightmares. He worries about the mental health of the execution team in Arkansas:

I can’t tell you how deeply concerned I am for their mental health. As the old saying goes, you dig two graves: one for the condemned, one for the avenger. That’s what will happen to this execution team – many of them will figuratively have to dig their own grave too.

Former superintendent of the Oregon state penitentiary, Frank Thompson, also weighed in:

There is absolutely no way to conduct a well-run execution without causing at least one person to lose a little bit of their humanity, or to start at least one person on the cumulative path to post-traumatic stress. So for Arkansas to do this eight times in 10 days, to me that is unimaginable – it is compounding the stress, laying traumatic experiences on top of each other.

The lethal drug itself poses problems for both the execution team and those to be executed. There’s a reason that companies and governments refuse to sell it to kill people. Midazolam is an unreliable and brutal agent of death. According to NBC News:

[Midazolam] does not always render the patient comatose, as is intended, which means patients could be awake when they are medically forced to stop breathing or have their hearts stopped.

In fact, a botched execution by Oklahoma in 2014 — using the drug to accomplish an excruciating death, after the inmate regained consciousness — resulted in other states postponing scheduled inmate deaths until an alternative could be found.

On Monday, the eight men Arkansas has scheduled for execution filed a lawsuit against Gov. Hutchinson and state Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley. The suit claims that the past failures of midazolam — plus an inadequate state protocol to provide an alternative should the drug fail — constitutes ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and carries ‘intolerable risks of suffering.’  Further, the rushed timetable for the executions deprives the inmates of the right to due process.

The attorneys for the inmates are also brutalized by the compacted timetable. Should issues arise in one death that need to be legally challenged for the remaining inmates, the attorneys will face an impossible workload and pay a huge emotional price. The lawsuit states:

It will be professionally and emotionally impossible for counsel to fully, adequately, and competently represent a client by witnessing his execution and raising challenges (if warranted) while also preparing for the execution of another client either on the same night or within a matter of days.

Dale Baich, an Arizona assistant federal defender, explained what that is like when more than one execution — much less eight — is scheduled at a time:

It is impossible to represent those clients and do the kind of work that needs to be done at the end of the process. We had a situation here in Arizona where we had two clients scheduled a week apart, and we had to have two separate teams working on those cases.

Even the people of Arkansas seem to understand the price to be paid for this unprecedented event. The state is having trouble lining up enough willing witnesses to the eight deaths, going so far as to try and recruit them at a Little Rock Rotary Club meeting. Each execution requires 6 to 12 witnesses. In response, Little Rock resident Michelle Frost said:

I could understand not even wanting to read about these occurrences let alone have to be in the room or watching.

Therein lies one of the biggest problems with execution — even those who are signing the death warrants don’t want anything to do with the actual process. It makes Allen Ault angry:

If the governor is so hot on this, he ought to go down to the death chamber and do it himself. But he won’t, they don’t, they never do. Politicians are never in the room when it happens, they never have to suffer anything.

And so Gov. Hutchinson can blithely sentence eight men to rapid-fire and painful deaths with inadequate legal recourse, the execution team to lifelong trauma and the possibility of suicide, the attorneys to an impossibly frustrating and helpless legal position, and witnesses to a horror they can’t imagine until they experience it. Yet the governor — who refuses to even discuss the executions with the press — won’t miss one wink of sleep over his murderous decision.

Feature photo from @DiscoveryID on Twitter.

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Deborah Montesano

Deborah Montesano is a longtime political activist and blogger. She learned to fight against impossible odds by living for years in Arizona, but recently relocated to the more progressive-friendly city of Portland, Oregon. Find her on Facebook at facebook.com/thepoliticali/ or on Twitter @thepoliticali_1.

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