Arkansas to execute eight inmates in April

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas, which has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, plans to execute eight death-row inmates in a period of 10 days this April before one of the state's lethal injection drugs expires.

Proclamations signed by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson in late February set the four execution dates for the eight men between April 17-27.

The Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment, said if this happens as planned, the state will execute inmates at a rate that hasn't happened in any state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The governor's decision was announced days after the state's attorney general said the inmates had exhausted all their appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court Feb. 21 rejected the inmates' request to review a state court ruling upholding Arkansas' lethal injection law and three days later the state Supreme Court lifted the stay on its ruling.

In a statement about the upcoming executions, Hutchinson said: "This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law, but it is also important to bring closure to the victims' families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time."

Arkansas uses three drugs in executions. Its stock of midazolam, the first drug administered, which is used as a sedative, expires in April.

Some of these lethal injection drugs are becoming harder to obtain as companies have stopped making them. Last year, Arizona agreed to stop using midazolam in its lethal injections. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court looked at the drugs used in lethal injections by Oklahoma and several other states and upheld lower courts that said midazolam did not violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

A bill was introduced in the Arkansas Legislature March 6 to do away with the death penalty, calling it "unfair and arbitrary." The bill replaces references to "death by lethal injection" in Arkansas sentencing statutes with "life imprisonment."

In early March, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati heard arguments about the constitutionality of Ohio's lethal injection process focusing on whether the drug midazolam is strong enough to put inmates in a state of unconsciousness before other lethal injections are administered. A ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is expected in late March.

In February, Father Bernard Bonnot, a retired priest from Youngstown, Ohio, wrote to Ohio Gov. John Kasich on behalf of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, urging him to reduce all death sentences to life in prison without parole.

In early March, Alabama's state Senate approved a bill requiring juries, not judges, to have the final say in recommending life imprisonment rather than a death sentence. A similar bill has been sent to the state House and was scheduled for debate in mid-March.

Currently, Alabama is the only state that allows a judge to override a jury when sentencing capital murder cases. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Florida last year.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017