The state of Arkansas plans to put to death eight inmates over a span of 10 days next month, a pace of executions unequaled in recent American history and brought about by a looming expiration date for a drug used by the state for lethal injections.
The eight men facing execution — four black and four white — are among 34 death row inmates in Arkansas, where capital punishment has been suspended since 2005 over legal challenges and difficulty in acquiring the drugs for lethal injections.
All eight men were convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999, and proponents of the death penalty and victims’ rights in the state have been frustrated that the cases have dragged on so long.
At a news conference this week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican and former federal prosecutor, seemed to regret that the executions were so closely stacked.“I would love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and years, but that’s not the circumstances that I find myself in,” said Mr. Hutchinson, who took office in 2015. “And, again, the families of the victims that have endured this for so many years deserve a conclusion to it.”
State officials have previously said that the expiration date would pass in April for Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, a drug that has been used in several botched and gruesome lethal injections in other states in recent years.
This week, the governor signed proclamations setting four execution dates for the eight inmates between April 17 and 27. Two men would be put to death on each of the four dates. If Arkansas follows that timetable, it will be at a rate unmatched by any state since the United States resumed the death penalty in 1977, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research group that opposes capital punishment.
The men’s lawyers said that even a best-case scenario would most likely only entail an alternative form of execution to the current three-drug injection method, which the lawyers argue is unconstitutionally cruel.
“The state’s supply of midazolam runs out on April 30,” said John Williams, an assistant federal public defender based in Little Rock. “And so the schedule is quite obviously dictated by that, and we think it is inhumane that the state would schedule executions so as to get rid of a drug supply that the evidence shows is cruel and unusual.”