It has been nearly 12 years since Arkansas executed a prisoner, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants to kill eight in an 11-day stretch starting next week. His rationale is as harebrained as it sounds: The state needs to hurry to beat the looming expiration date of one of the drugs in its cocktail of lethal injections.
Talk about turning common sense on its head. Even as a federal court granted a temporary reprieve to one of the condemned men, Hutchinson is rushing to end the lives of the other seven on an unprecedentedly tight schedule not because justice demands it; nor because the prisoners’ appeals have run their course; nor even because of the cost to taxpayers of maintaining the men on death row.
In Hutchinson’s view, the pharmacological shelf life of a particular sedative requires that death’s schedule be expedited. So hurried is Arkansas’s timetable that witnesses to the executions – state law requires that six “respectable citizens” attend each one – are in short supply. The director of the Department of Corrections was so concerned at the shortage of volunteers that she asked the Little Rock Rotary Club if it could provide some.
Since 1977, when capital punishment resumed in the United States following a Supreme Court review, no state, not even Texas with its execution enthusiasts, has carried out so many death sentences in such a short span.
Botched executions, resulting in agonizing, drawn-out deaths, have taken place in several states in recent years. As it happens, some of those grisly mishaps arose from problems with the same sedative whose expiration date Hutchinson cites as the pretext for his planned state-sponsored killing spree.
Hutchinson’s plan is not just unseemly. It is a scenario for subhuman suffering. If the state goes forward, it will be a blot on Arkansas, and on America.