Arkansas hasn’t executed an inmate since 2005, largely because of court challenges to its lethal injection law and a nationwide shortage of drugs often used during executions. But last week, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge requested execution dates for eight inmates because their appeals had been exhausted, and prison officials said they had an adequate supply of lethal-injection drugs.
Hutchinson set four dates through January, but acknowledged that challenges are likely.
“Quite frankly I would expect continued litigation in it, but it’s my understanding that all of the appeals have been exhausted and that there is a finality in the judgment and that is the reason the Attorney General has asked for those dates to be set,” Hutchinson said.
Several inmates have filed a lawsuit challenging a new state law that allows the Arkansas Department of Correction not to disclose how it obtains execution drugs. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected similar arguments used by inmates in Missouri, Texas and other states that also allow prisons to keep their drug suppliers’ names secret.
The lawsuit’s lead attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, said Wednesday that his team was already working on filing motions to delay the executions.
“We think the lethal injection lawsuit presents serious issues that need to be resolved first before any executions can take place,” he said.
The first two executions are scheduled Oct. 21, for inmates Bruce Earl Ward and Don William Davis.
Ward, a former perfume salesman, was convicted in the 1989 killing of 18-year-old Rebecca Doss, whose body was found in the men’s bathroom of the convenience store where she worked.
Davis, who had an execution date set in 2006 that was later stayed, was sentenced to death for the 1990 robbery and death of Jane Daniels in northwest Arkansas.
The other executions are scheduled for Nov. 3, Dec. 14 and Jan. 14.
Arkansas has had multiple executions in the past, including triple executions in 1994 and 1997. At the time, the state Correction Department said multiple executions reduced stress on prison staff.
Last year’s botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett was the first of a scheduled double execution. A state review team later recommended that at least seven days pass between each execution; the report said a veteran paramedic who placed Lockett’s intravenous line had noted a sense of urgency in the air.
Hutchinson’s spokesman, J.R. Davis, said late Wednesday that he didn’t know if the governor had seen the Oklahoma study. But he said Hutchinson’s staff had carefully considered the dates that were set.
“The governor sees this as his duty as governor to carry this out, as requested by the Attorney General, and set these dates. This is a duty, nothing more, nothing less,” Davis said. “This isn’t something that anyone enjoys talking about, but at the same time we are confident in our staff’s thoughtful approach to these dates.”
Arkansas’ current execution protocol calls for a three-drug process that includes midazolam. The sedative was implicated after Lockett’s execution, and executions in Arizona and Ohio last year, went longer than expected, with inmates gasping and groaning.
The U.S. Supreme Court approved continued use of the drug in June, rejecting a challenge from three Oklahoma death-row inmates.
Arkansas has executed 27 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976.
The other Arkansas scheduled executions are for Terrick Terrell Nooner and Stacey Eugene Johnson, convicted in separate killings in 1993, on Nov. 3; Marcel Wayne Williams, convicted of a 1994 killing, and Jack Harold Jones Jr., convicted of a 1995 killing, on Dec. 14; and Jason McGehee, convicted in a 1996 killing, and Kenneth Williams, convicted of a 1999 killing, on Jan. 14.