LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas officials say their plans for eight executions in a 10-day period will fall through if a federal judge gives death row inmates more time to prepare clemency requests.
A judge on Tuesday will consider the inmates’ request for additional time. Lawyers for the state said Monday that the prisoners know the state’s supply of a key sedative expires April 30 and that it would be “impossible” to execute the prisoners because “Arkansas has no source of midazolam” beyond that already in stock.
Here’s where things stand with two weeks remaining before the executions are set to begin:
Two weeks away
Under the current schedule, Bruce Earl Ward and Don William Davis are to be executed two weeks from now on the same day — April 17. They most likely will be put to death in the order of their prisoner numbers. Six other inmates are to be put to death in double executions in the 10 days that follow. Arkansas has adopted the ramped-up schedule because its midazolam expires April 30.
Arkansas has not executed a prisoner since 2005 because of legal challenges to its lethal injection law and because of trouble obtaining the drugs needed to carry the executions out.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the use of the death penalty in 1976, only Texas has killed eight inmates in a month, doing it twice in 1997.
A sixth inmate, Jack Jones, filed a clemency request with the state’s Parole Board, which set a hearing for Friday. And the board said it would have a decision Tuesday on whether it will recommend clemency for Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee, who are to die April 27 in the last set of four double executions. The clemency requests of three others have already been rejected and the remaining two did not request clemency.
Williams acknowledged killing four people in separate incidents in 1998 and 1999, but told the panel he had found God in prison.
Meanwhile, McGehee said that he liked his victim — a teenager who had told police about a theft ring — and that he didn’t expect an attack to “go so far.”
Regardless of the board’s recommendation, Hutchinson is allowed to make his own decision on whether to commute the men’s death sentences.
Two lawsuits are pending in federal court that could delay or halt Arkansas’ executions. A delay beyond April 30 would be as effective as halting the lethal injections, as Arkansas has said it has difficulty obtaining the midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride it needs to put the men to death. The midazolam expires at the end of the month.
In Little Rock federal court, a hearing is set Tuesday in a lawsuit in which six inmates allege that Hutchinson’s decision to schedule what the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty calls a mass execution has made it difficult for the condemned prisoners to prepare meaningful clemency requests. The state said in court papers Monday that the inmates are deliberately stalling.
“Requiring Arkansas to move (the) scheduled executions back even a few days … will make it impossible for Arkansas to perform lawful executions because Arkansas’ supply of midazolam (the critical component of Arkansas’ lethal injection protocol) expires at the end of this month,” state lawyers wrote. “Arkansas has no source of midazolam.”
A separate lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the executions; a hearing on it is scheduled for next week.
In another case, the condemned inmates want the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision upholding Arkansas’ lethal injection law. It is scheduled for a conference on April 13 — four days before the executions are to begin.
State court cases
Inmate Stacey Johnson has asked the Arkansas Supreme Court for a stay so evidence in his case can be tested again, while Ward has asked the Jefferson County Court to stay his execution so he can present additional arguments.
In Pulaski County, which handles lawsuits against the state of Arkansas, a judge last month rejected another lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection law, setting it up for a likely appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In a case without direct bearing on the execution timetable, a Little Rock lawyer wants access to labels and packing slips for recently acquired potassium chloride, to ensure it meets quality standards. A Pulaski County judge ordered the material released but the Arkansas Department of Correction appealed to the state’s highest court. Justices rejected the appeal on a technicality Monday but gave the state permission to file again.
While Correction Department Director Wendy Kelley has denied requests for interviews about the unprecedented execution schedule, she did appear before a Rotary Club last month and said she was having trouble finding citizen volunteers to watch the eight executions. Her department has denied open records requests seeking information on citizens who have reached out and offered to attend.