Eight men on death row in the state of Arkansas will be executed within a 10-day span in April unless one or more are given a stay of execution or granted any last-minute appeals. This is set to be the largest number of executions to take place over the shortest period of time in Arkansas, because part of the medication protocol that will be given in order to perform the lethal injections, Midzalom, has already been obtained and is set to expire at the end of April.
Asa Hutchinson, governor of Arkansas, learned of the situation with the expensive medication and decided to set the dates of the executions between April 17 and April 27, and says he is planning to execute two men a day with a one-day reprieve in between executions, in order to comply with proper Arkansas prison and correctional procedures, according to MSN. All of the men scheduled for lethal injections have been convicted of capital murder, the most serious conviction possible in the United States, and in states where the death penalty is an option, such as Arkansas, penalty of death is a common sentence for capital murder, although appeals can go on for years. In the case of these eight prisoners, appeals have been made and denied for more than a decade, according to Governor Hutchinson.
“As required by law, I have set the execution dates for the eight convicted of capital murder. This is based upon the attorney general’s referral and the exhaustion of all appeals and court reviews that have been ongoing for more than a decade.”
After the executions, Arkansas’ death row will decrease by a quarter, with approximately two dozen prisoners left on it, all male. Some of these men have been sitting on death row for nearly 30 years — all were convicted between 1989 and 1999 — but progress in execution has been slow due to several factors. In fact, nobody has been executed at all in Arkansas since 2005, due to legal red tape and the lack of consistent access to drugs deemed suitable for lethal injection.
Of late, it has been a controversial issue of the drugs and mixtures that were used, such as potassium chloride which is given to stop the heart. It was argued that it was too painful to give alone and fell under “cruel and unusual punishment.” There has been a push to make the deaths painless and peaceful, which Midzalom, the drug set to expire, will help with. It places patients in a dream-like, hypnotic trance, diminishing their awareness and anxiety and may make them comatose. The medication is commonly used during procedures in emergency rooms and operating rooms and to sedate people who require uncomfortable medical help, such as intubation. Alone, it may not kill someone, which is why a cocktail of drugs are used in lethal injections. Potassium chloride is still given, and is likely the drug that causes death, but the thought that is common in medical science is that the prisoner will not feel the lethal heart rhythm that leads to cardiac arrest, which may be painful if they are given Midzalom first.
Attorneys of the eight men continue to attempt to thwart the executions. One of the men, Marcel Wayne Williams, filed an application for clemency on Tuesday, stating that his crime was a result of the trauma he had endured as a child, and that the state failed to protect him from physical and sexual abuse as a minor, which was a miscarriage of justice. As of yet, his plea for clemency has not been accepted.
The only other state to successfully execute eight prisoners within a month’s time is Texas, which occurred between May and June 1997. Many objectors of the death penalty have raised concerns about the medications used to kill the prisoners and that perhaps prisoners are not sedated enough. Megan McCracken, a lethal injection expert at the University of California Berkeley School of Law’s Death Penalty Clinic, explained how Midzalom is a factor in this equation.
“If the prisoner is placed under surgical anesthesia by the first drug, then the fact that the other two drugs cause pain wouldn’t matter. But if that first drug for any number of reasons doesn’t work, then you have a person who is paralyzed who has been administered an incredibly painful drug that will cause cardiac arrest.”
In the past, there have been claims this has been the case, with prisoners apparently moving, wincing, and gasping even after being given Midzalom, but it has been unclear if those who are witnessing the deaths are familiar with agonal respirations, which anyone who is dying may experience and can mimic typical responses to pain. There are stronger anesthetics that are made, but pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply them for executions due to myriad legal reasons, including public pressure.
[Featured Image by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images]