“Off with their heads!” may simply be words uttered by the evil Queen of Hearts in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, but it almost feels like that is the exact sentiment held toward seven inmates on death row in Arkansas. Last week would have been the beginning of a small window of eleven days in which seven death row inmates would have been executed, as pushed by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson. However, two judges, Wendell Griffen, who has been out of the public eye since being seen at a protest against the executions but is “morally opposed to the death penalty,” and Kristine Baker both blocked the order.
Hutchinson said that it was his “duty” as governor to ensure that the executions took place, citing the approaching expiration of one of the lethal injection drugs was at the end of the month. The Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge backed up the governor saying that her office is committed to carrying out the executions. However, there have been many reservations about the motion; for example, Arkansas hasn’t executed anyone in twelve years and on top of that use of Midazolam, the drug in question has been known to be improperly administered in a number of other executions. Some doctors and even former wardens warn against this “execution through assembly.” In fact, Oklahoma put in place a rule that there ought to be at least seven days between executions so as to prevent extra stress for the staff. Additionally, the Department of Correction has struggled to recruit enough witnesses: Arkansas law states that there must be at least six at every execution.
While I do not agree with many of Hutchinson’s politics, some of his ideas sound fairly solid, for example he voted for alternate sentencing rather than increasing the number of prisons and voted to eliminate the Estate Tax. It’s interesting to note too that he appears to be vehemently against abortions, stating that human life begins at conception. If he proclaims that the sanctity and protection of life is that important, I find it ludicrous that he is pushing for the quick execution of seven men, four of whom are mentally ill or impaired. It was difficult to find many positive reviews of Rutledge’s work, while she has certainly had experience in the legal field, some think that the amount is a little suspicious. According to the Arkansas Times, between 2001 and 2014 she held at least nine jobs, only two of which lasted about two years—in fact, after she left the Arkansas Department of Human Services, they put her on a “do not rehire” list because of misconduct.
The politics of Hutchinson and Rutledge aside, I personally have found issue around the controversy of Midazolam, the drug used as an anesthetic. The fact that its history in lethal injections is clouded with issues is worrisome, and the use of its expiration date sounds like a cop-out. In fact, McKesson, a supplier of the drug in question, wanted to be sure Arkansas wouldn’t use it in lethal injections, even asking for the drug to be returned, but the state did not observe their request. Furthermore, the fact that many of the men at the mercy of this ruling are either mentally ill, impaired, or experienced abuse as a child is shocking—a number of their attorneys expressed concern that the method of execution might cause excessive pain and that the short time frame allowed more room for harmful mistakes and prevented them from preparing an adequate defense. Given that, this decision seemed hastily made and not adequately considered.