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Arkansas Plans Rapid Execution Schedule


The state of Arkansas may soon put to death eight convicted murderers in 10 days. The state is executing death warrants at an unprecedented rate because it's supply of one of the drugs that's used for lethal injections is reaching its expiration date. Officials are concerned it won't be available later. Dr. Allen Ault has been a commissioner of corrections in three states, including Georgia, where he presided over five executions. Dr. Ault has written a piece in Time magazine in which he implores the Arkansas government to reconsider its plans for executions. Dr. Ault joins us now from member station WEKU in Lexington, Ky. Dr. Ault, thanks for being with us.

ALLEN AULT: Thank you, sir.

SIMON: You say that executing two people per day over four days is dangerous. How so?

AULT: Well - and a lot of people don't quite understand this - but even the most despicable people - when you go to execute them, they are totally defenseless. And you rehearse the execution sometimes weeks in advance. You have a policy book about an inch thick. And it is, in my mind, one of the most premeditated murders that you can do, even though it's under the auspices of the state.

I don't know anybody that has been involved who had a conscience that was not dramatically affected by it. And we've had several correctional officials who later became alcoholics. Some committed suicide. Many of them were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, including myself. Some of us have been in war, and we understand self-defense and that sort of thing, but this is altogether different.

SIMON: And are you suggesting that eight executions over 10 days concentrates the experience in a way - it sounds like no group of people have ever lived and been a part of so many executions at one time.

AULT: I mean, I know that Texas has executed a lot, but none, not even Texas, on that kind of schedule. The other problem is that pharmaceutical companies and all medical professions will not involve themselves in executions. So this is the problem. They can't get the appropriate drugs anymore. And they have this one drug, which is a sedative, as part of the cocktail, but in Oklahoma and Ohio and some other states, they've had real problems in the execution - I mean, botched executions, where they have died agonizing deaths at the hands of the officials because the drug cocktail was incorrectly administered or incorrectly put together.

SIMON: The drug you mention, I gather, is called midazolam, and it was originally created as a - as a sedative. Could working at this accelerated rate increase the opportunity for mistakes?

AULT: I would guess so. I mean, these individuals in Arkansas - nobody in Arkansas has participated in an execution in well over a decade. And so here we're going to ask them to do eight executions - two a day - in less than two weeks.

SIMON: We want to mention that we have been trying for weeks, really, to to interview a responsible official in the state of Arkansas. And they, so far, have chosen not to make themselves available for an interview. But I do want to put the argument to you, Dr. Ault, that a state official might say, look, this is the law. They have been sentenced to death, and it is the law of this state that we have to do that. We don't have to like it, and it might cause trauma, but we are bound by our obligations to the state of Arkansas to fulfill the law.

AULT: Well, I've heard that argument over and over, but to do it in this manner because of an expiration date on a drug, where you're going to execute people, regardless how you feel about these individuals - and they may all be extremely despicable human beings - my concern is the innocent people, which are the correction officials, and how that'll impact them for the rest of their life. I still have things that trigger the nightmares and the great sense of guilt. A human being's life is in your hand, and you kill them.

SIMON: Dr. Allen Ault, a former warden and corrections commissioner - he recently retired from the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University. Thanks very much for being with us.

AULT: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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