Arkansass supply of the execution drug Midazolam is due to expire at the end of April and further stocks will be hard to secure because of a boycott by European companies. Photograph: AP
Hutchinsons professed reason for the tight schedule is that the states batch of midazolam, a sedative used in many recent US executions, reaches its expiration date at the end of April and fresh supplies of the drug will be hard to secure because of the boycott of US corrections departments by pharmaceutical companies and foreign governments. Yet even without the added complications that can come from haste, midazolam has a patchy reputation in capital punishment.
It was the same drug that was deployed in the gruesome killing of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in 2014, in which the inmate writhed and groaned on the gurney for 43 minutes. The states subsequent investigation found that one factor behind the calamity was that the execution team had been placed under undue stress as they were primed to carry out two judicial killings on the same day. Due to manpower and facility concerns, executions should not be scheduled within seven calendar days of each other, the report concluded.
The example of Oklahoma should be very troubling for Arkansas officials, said Dale Baich, a defense attorney who represented Joseph Wood, who died in similarly grotesque circumstances in a botched execution involving midazolam in Arizona that same year. What will happen if the first prisoner has the same sort of reaction as Wood or Lockett will the governor press ahead with the next execution? This rush to execute is foolish and irresponsible.
Jennifer Moreno, a staff attorney with the Berkeley Law death penalty clinic, said that by choosing to use midazolam, Arkansas had opted for a protocol that had no margin of error. When you add to that the pressure of executing eight men in 11 days, you are just asking for something to go wrong they are putting their team in a really difficult spot.
The eight condemned men on Monday lodged a new lawsuit in a federal court in Arkansas seeking to prevent Hutchinson from going ahead with his plan. The complaint warns that the intense stress placed on the execution team, and the lack of a pause between killings to allow for review, will heighten the risk of the inmates suffering unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment as they die.
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.