Fast Pace Of Executions In Arkansas Has Some Worried
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Arkansas will execute more people next month than any state has done since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty 40 years ago. Jacob Kauffman of member station KUAR in Little Rock reports many people think the rush to execute will cause problems.
JACOB KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: Eight men in 10 days - that's the schedule Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has set in motion. The reason - the state just received one of the drugs needed to perform executions, and another one expires at the end of April.
ASA HUTCHINSON: Ours is brought together in a short timeframe because of unusual circumstances. And so that just falls on my lap as someone happened to set the dates and to do it in the right time frame.
KAUFFMAN: The plan is to do four sets of double executions beginning April 17. The rapid pace has already led to some lawsuits. John Williams is an assistant federal public defender in Little Rock. He's worried that attorneys will not have enough time to prepare for appeals and clemency proceedings. He also says inexperienced corrections workers might make errors because the state hasn't executed anyone since 2005.
JOHN WILLIAMS: The pressures that this will put upon execution staff, we think, could translate to real harm for our clients in the form of a mistake in - during the execution.
KAUFFMAN: Both the Arkansas Department of Correction and the state attorney general's office declined interviews, but a corrections spokesman, Solomon Graves, said in a statement the department staff is well-trained, and he's confident the lethal injection protocol will minimize risk to inmates.
Oklahoma used to do two executions in a night like Arkansas plans to do, but the state stopped after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014. Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy watched it happen.
SEAN MURPHY: Lockett began, you know, to - rising up from the gurney, like the top part of his body. He began straining against the restraints. He began moaning, tried to verbalize some words.
KAUFFMAN: Afterward, Oklahoma made changes, recommending that the time between executions be at least seven days. Murphy said one of the reasons was because prison staff found it stressful carrying out multiple executions in a single night. One of the only people to ever be put on Arkansas's death row and then removed from it, Damien Echols, says killing eight men over 10 days is nothing short of barbaric.
DAMIEN ECHOLS: It's not even the dignity of a person being executed on their own, which is horrifying in itself. You know, they've stripped away even that dignity now, and you're being in essence shoved into a cattle chute and killed in mass numbers. It's absolutely horrifying.
KAUFFMAN: But Governor Hutchinson says he has no problem ordering the executions. The victims of those on death row, he notes, were afforded no such consideration.
HUTCHINSON: The challenge that I have to carry out my responsibility is minimal compared to the emotional struggle and trauma that the victims' families have endured.
KAUFFMAN: The fast execution pace has led to another problem - finding enough people to witness them. The state requires at least six members of the public to watch each execution. And earlier this month, a correction department official appealed for volunteers during a speech at a Rotary Club meeting. For NPR News, I'm Jacob Kauffman in Little Rock.
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