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Arkansas sued over plan to execute 8 men in 10 days using a drug that doesn’t work

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An attorney says we’re likely to see botched executions.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

Eight men are set to be executed during a ten-day period next month before Arkansas’ supply of an ineffective sedative expires.

Arkansas has not gone through with capital punishment in 12 years, despite having 34 inmates waiting on death row. But after courts cleared the way last summer for the state to keep hidden its sources for execution drugs, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said recently he is ready to move forward. It will be the busiest month for the death penalty in a single state since the United States reinstated capital punishment in 1977.

But this week, inmates filed two separate lawsuits against the state, arguing that the execution plan is “cruel and unusual.” In a complaint filed Monday, the eight men claimed that the compact schedule threatens their right to effective counsel.

According to the lawsuit, Hutchinson gave the defendants and their attorneys fewer than 60 days to prepare when in late February he announced the execution schedule for April 17 through 27 for the four black and four white inmates. “The pace of executions puts an undue pressure on the attorneys,” federal public defender John Williams, who represents three of the inmates, told NBC.

“I think it’s highly likely we’re going to end up with several botched executions.”

Arkansas plans to use a three-drug cocktail to carry out the executions, including midazolam, a sedative that is administered first in an attempt to numb the inmate. In 2014, Oklahoma made headlines when inmate Clayton Lockett woke up in the middle of his execution due to midazolam malfunctioning. The drug has also been blamed for botched executions in Ohio and in Arizona, where one execution took nearly two hours.

Arkansas’ supply is set to expire at the end of April, meaning that if any of the scheduled executions are delayed, the midazolam will likely be unusable. “It is uncertain as to whether another drug can be obtained,” Hutchinson said in a statement when he announced the executions.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney who is also representing three of the defendants, told ThinkProgress that by using the drug, the state could be setting itself up for disaster.

“We know midazolam doesn’t work,” he said. “People wake up…. It has been the source of the so-called botched executions because the people have been awake and in total pain because they’re trying to use midazolam for a purpose it wasn’t intended to be used.”

Bottles of the sedative midazolam. CREDIT: AP Photo

“I think it’s highly likely we’re going to end up with several botched executions,” he continued. “The question is how the system will react when it’s obvious during the first one that this does not work as advertised.”

If one of the first of the eight executions were to unfold unusually in some way, Rosenzweig said he would bring it to the attention of the courts and the governor immediately.

But Jessica Ray, spokesperson for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledg, said the state’s top lawyer “will continue to fully defend Arkansas’s method of executions, and she expects the executions to proceed as scheduled.”


Arkansas sued over plan to execute 8 men in 10 days using a drug that doesn’t work was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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