When Arkansas announced last week that it planned to execute eight men, two a day, over a span of 10 days next month, the reaction was shock and revulsion. Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Laurence Tribe tweeted, “Maybe Arkansas should bring in the experts – from Isis.” And Austin Sarat, professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College, in an opinion piece for CNN, said “This rush to execute blurs distinctions between the death penalty and murder and places us in the company of nations and groups less invested than we are in honoring the individuality and dignity of the condemned.” Sarat also alluded to Isis, pointing out that “wholesale execution is regularly practiced by terrorist organizations like ISIS.” The New York Times said the schedule would implement “a pace of executions unequaled in recent American history.”
Because of legal challenges and its difficulty in obtaining lethal drugs, Arkansas hasn’t executed anyone since 2005. It’s believed the state is in a hurry now because of the two drugs it has on hand, one, midazolam, expires at the end of April. A second drug, vecuronium bromide, is good until next March. But it’s not clear how or when corrections officials will be able to obtain potassium chloride, the third drug it needs for its lethal cocktail.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, if the executions are carried out, it will be the first time since 1997 that eight people were killed in a single month. In that year, Texas executed eight in both May and June. However, DPIC says, no state has ever executed eight people in ten days.
The eight men, four black and four white, are among 34 death row inmates in Arkansas. The execution dates were set after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a state court decision upholding Arkansas’ lethal injection protocol, and the state Supreme Court then lifted its stay. Attorneys for the eight prisoners have filed an amended challenge to the lethal injection procedures in state court, and have written to the governor urging him to reconsider the lethal injection protocol.