Friday, April 28, 2017

No Time Left

Arkansas has put to death convicted murderer Kenneth Williams. His was the last of a series of executions accelerated because the state's lethal-injection drugs were about to expire.
Arkansas Executes 4th Inmate In 8 Days
Someone commented to me that Arkansas was executing people like it was going out of style, and that prompted me to think about the circumstances of this recent series of executions. The stated driver of the push to execute 8 men (that number was quickly whittled down by the courts) in the latter half of this month was the fact that the state's supply of the sedative midazolam was due to expire.

Pharmaceutical companies, wary of being seen as supporting the death penalty, have been shying away of selling states the drug for use in executions. In fact, one of the lawsuits that challenged Arkansas' plans was from McKesson, which makes a different drug used in the executions, vecuronium bromide. The drugmaker claimed, among other things, that their business would suffer "grave reputational harm" if their drug was used.

For opponents of the death penalty, this is all welcome news. Although there's nothing that prohibits states from returning to older methods of execution, such as the electric chair or firing squads, the push for more humane ways to put people to death (an oxymoron to some) means that they are unlikely to return to widespread usage, and so lethal injection is likely to remain the method of choice. But, in theory, after this month, Arkansas no longer has access to that choice, unless they manage to find other sources for the drugs required. And so they implemented as many of the executions as they could in the time they had available.

And so I wonder - if the State of Arkansas wasn't up against a deadline, would there have been the same rush to complete the executions? I can't give a definitive answer to that, given that it's a counterfactual, but my initial impression is "no." And that leads me to an ironic conclusion - that the effectiveness of opposition to the death penalty set in motion a chain of events that lead to the rapid executions of Ledell Lee, Marcel Williams,  Jack Jones Jr. and Kenneth Williams. Given that they had been on Death Row for some time, and had exhausted their appeals, one could say that their fates were already sealed, and this isn't to imply that anti-death penalty activism is responsible for their deaths. Responsibility lies with the people who signed the warrants and carried them out. Governor Hutchinson may have felt that he had little choice but to proceed as quickly as possible, but in the end the choice was still his in large part.

An attorney for Ledell Lee claimed that he'd been executed before DNA testing could be done to determine if, as he'd claimed for the nearly half his life he'd spent in prison, he was innocent of the charges against him. It seems strange to consider that if the state had understood that they could still execute him a month or a year later than they did, there may have been more time to pursue his claims.

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