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Arkansas Faces More Legal Roadblocks To Planned Executions


The state of Arkansas set an ambitious goal. It scheduled eight executions over a 10-day span this month. No state has killed that many people that fast in at least 45 years. But the first two executions, which were slated for Monday night, were stayed pending the outcome of a completely separate U.S. Supreme Court case about whether certain defendants are entitled to the services of an independent psychiatrist to help with their defense. The next two are scheduled for tonight. But as it stands now, they likely won't happen either.

Jacob Kauffman of member station KUAR has been following this story and joins us. Jacob, good morning.


GREENE: Lot to work through here, a lot of moving parts legally. So where exactly do things stand?

KAUFFMAN: Well, as of this morning at least, a double execution scheduled tonight. They'd be the first ones in Arkansas in 12 years. They're on hold for multiple reasons in multiple different courts.

First, in the state Supreme Court in Arkansas, unlike the executions that were halted earlier in the week for mental health evaluations, both of these men tonight claim innocence, and they both want the use of new DNA technology, new DNA testing, that they haven't gotten since they were first convicted in the early '90s. And maybe the bigger court order though came at the state circuit court level. Judge Alice Gray, she said that one of the three drugs used in the state's lethal injection mixture was essentially obtained illegally by the state.

The company out of San Francisco, McKesson Corporation, a medical supply company, they claim that the state deliberately circumvented them to use the drugs for executions. They were told that the drug would only be used for - in prison health clinics for its proper medicinal use as opposed to putting prisoners to death.

But above all this, though, is the United States Supreme Court. They're considering inmates' appeals saying that one of the drugs used, Midazolam, is not an effective sedative - that's been used in other botched executions elsewhere like in Oklahoma - and that the fast, compressed schedule is more error-prone.

GREENE: Well, and the fast schedule is because of questions about some of these lethal drugs, right?

KAUFFMAN: Yeah, one of the drugs, which the state just obtained last month - and that's the reason why these executions are moving forward after 12 years - is set to expire on May 1. And the governor has kind of oscillated back and forth. Originally, it was pretty clear to everyone involved that that's the reason for the compressed execution timetable to kill eight men in 10 to 11 days.

But at a recent press conference at the governor's mansion, he actually said that that was his preference, to do these series of three double executions, that he thought it'd be better on the staff to get it all over and done with at once. He said it'd be better on the victims' families. He said basically that we've waited 25 years in some of these cases to get to this point. He thinks it's time to be a functionary of the state and to get this delivered, regardless of when the expiration date is. So there's some back and forth of whether that's really the reason.

GREENE: OK, so the governor's saying that the executions are important to give justice to the victims' families. That's one reason. Have the families reacted to any of this news? Have they said what they want here?

KAUFFMAN: Some of the family members have. For the executions that were postponed last Monday, the state is driving in the families of the victims to witness the executions. They're preparing for the executions every night, regardless of all these different court orders blocking the executions. They're certainly upset about this. This is very stressful. But in many ways, it's emotions they've experienced before since these executions have been going through different legal hurdles for 20 years or so.

GREENE: OK. That's Jacob Kauffman of member station KUAR in Little Rock, Ark. Jacob, thanks.

KAUFFMAN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jacob Kauffman

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