On this Saturday after Good Friday, my mind has turned to the death penalty.
The state of Arkansas has scheduled eight executions (note that the article was written after a court blocked one of the executions) from 17 April through 27 April. The reason for the haste appears to be that one of the drugs the state has on hand to use in the execution will expire. The drug in question, midazolam, is a controversial sedative that will be one of three drugs used in the lethal injections.
In addition to the usual concerns about the use of the death penalty and the controversy surrounding the use of midazolam, questions have been raised about the impact of the pace of the executions on the people who will carry them out. Corrections officials who have overseen executions are among those speaking out. It is important to note that their letter addresses the pace of the executions. It does not ask the governor to halt the executions. As the Washington Post reports:
In a letter to [Arkansas Governor Asa] Hutchinson last month, two dozen such officials pleaded with him to change the pace, warning that “performing so many executions in so little time will impose extraordinary and unnecessary stress and trauma” on the corrections officials.
“Even under less demanding circumstances, carrying out an execution can take a severe toll on corrections officers’ wellbeing,” they wrote.
Jerry Givens, who signed the letter and spent 17 years as Virginia’s chief executioner, said corrections officers are already under enough pressure before taking on the added weight of multiple executions.
The Washington Post further reports there is concern that the timing may lead to a mistake.
Givens and the other corrections officials also worry that the pace “will increase the chance” of a mistake. They pointed to the last state that intended to carry out two executions in one night: Oklahoma, which bungled the execution of Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, in 2014.
Lockett grimaced, writhed and appeared to be in pain during the process, witnesses said, dying a short time after the execution was called off. In a state review, authorities wrote that the execution team placed the IV incorrectly and that officials involved described a feeling of extra stress and urgency because a second execution was scheduled for the same night.
Courts have intervened to slow the process. The Death Penalty Information Center notes that there has been a Federal preliminary injunction against execution method that applies to all the death-row inmates. There has also been a State preliminary injunction against use of vecuronium bromide in execution that also applies to all the inmate.
In addition, one execution has been stayed by the Arkansas Supreme Court to allow the inmate’s competency to be executed to be litigated. And a Federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction staying the execution of a second inmate until Arkansas Parole Board complies with 30-day public notice period on the Board’s 6-1 recommendation to grant clemency and Governor Hutchinson decides whether to grant or deny clemency.
Nothing justifies the actions of the eight individuals on death row. All eight of them were convicted of capital murder. I grieve for the family and friends of their victims. I grieve for absent places and empty spaces.
But execution is not the answer. It will not restore their victims to life. It will not make the families and friends of those they killed whole.
Execution says more about us than it does about the person we execute. It lowers us to the level of those who kill.
Nothing justifies their actions. But execution is not the answer. Life imprisonment is. And that life imprisonment needs to be secure. At least one of the inmates committed murder after he escaped. That is not an argument for his execution; it is a wake-up call to the prison system.
The pace concerns me. But so does the idea of execution at all. I have contacted Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and asked him to grant clemency.
It is time to end the death penalty.
See you along the Trail.