Arkansas has not put anyone to death since Nov. 28, 2005. However, eight men will be executed in pairs from April 17–27, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office.
This quick succession of executions in such a short time frame is — according to a spokesperson for U.S. execution-monitoring group — “unprecedented,” CNN reported on March 3.
“I would love to have those (executions) scheduled over a period of multiple months and years, but that’s not the circumstances that I find myself in,” Hutchinson said in an interview with the New York Times. “And, again, the families of the victims that have endured this for so many years deserve a conclusion to it.”
In the same New York Times interview, Hutchinson said the close proximity of each execution’s scheduling was necessary due to concerns about the availability of one of the three drugs Arkansas uses for lethal-injection.
According to state officials, the expiration date for Arkansas’ supply of Midazolam will pass in April, leaving Hutchinson uncertain about whether or not another drug could be obtained.
The eight men scheduled for execution were convicted of murders that took place between 1989 and 1999, and death penalty advocates (along with victims’ rights supporters) in the state have been frustrated that the cases have dragged on so long, according to the New York Times. However, those who oppose the death penalty resisted and critiqued the sentences, with attorneys for the eight men attempting to block the executions.
“The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (ACADP) is outraged by… plans to carry out eight executions within the span of 10 days in April,” the organization said, according to CNN. “This planned mass execution is grotesque and unprecedented.”
The group argues that Midazolam is ineffective in providing those being executed a swift, painless death. The drug is intended to be the first of the three administered during lethal injection, knocking inmates unconscious before they are administered pancuronium bromide — which paralyzes the body — and potassium chloride — which initiates cardiac arrest and stops the heart. However, using the drugs as an excuse to prolong the already established sentences forces some to argue that “justice delayed is justice denied,” according to Matthew Swindle, assistant professor of criminal justice.
Swindle said the state has chosen to follow through with carrying out the inevitable sentences to see justice done for the family members of the victims.
“That is a choice that the state is entitled to make,” Swindle said. “And in the absence of some showing that the busy execution schedule somehow violates the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments in the Arkansas and U.S. Constitutions, that is a choice that is constitutional.”