Arkansas

Arkansas

NEW VOICES: Arkansas Attorney General Says State Death Penalty "Completely Broken"

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel recently said the state’s death penalty system was “completely broken” and recommended it be abolished if the state's execution method isn't changed. McDaniel said, “It’s time for the policy makers of Arkansas to say, ‘Do we continue with a broken system and throwing money and resources at essentially pointless litigation, or do we modify the system?’ And there’s only really two modifications that I see available — it’s either abolish the death penalty or change the method of execution.” He added, “Frankly, I don’t think we are telling jurors the truth when we lead them to believe that they are sentencing someone to death when we really don’t have a viable system with which to execute someone.” In speaking to the Sheriffs Associaton, he criticized the state’s lethal injection protocol because there are no execution drugs available and because of the difficulty in getting physicians to participate in executions. Arkansas currently has 38 inmates on death row. The state's last execution was in 2005.

LETHAL INJECTION: British Manufacturer Stops Drug Supply to Arkansas for Executions

The British manufacturer Hikma Pharmaceuticals recently announced new rules to restrict the supply of its products for unintended uses, such as carrying out executions in the United States. Earlier this year, Reprieve, a legal advocacy organization based in London, found that a U.S. subsidiary of Hikma sold 100 grams of phenobarbital to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Arkansas decided to use the new, untested drug in their lethal injection process when they were unable to secure supplies of the drugs they normally use. A spokesman for Hikma Pharmaceuticals said the order had been made as part of the regular request for drugs for prison hospital services and did not raise any red flags because the drug had never been used in executions before. Arkansas has been contacted by the drug company and told that the subsidiary was closing the account. The state's current supply of phenobarbital is sufficient to carry out eight executions and will expire in October 2015. The state will need to seek alternative sources or different drugs when their current supply becomes unavailable. Other drug companies have put similar restrictions on the use of their drugs in executions.

LETHAL INJECTION: Arkansas Plans to Use Untested Drug in Executions

The Arkansas Department of Corrections recently announced it will use a new drug, phenobarbital, for lethal injections. Phenobarbital is used to treat seizures but has never been used for executions in the U.S. Some experts are concerned that using drugs that are untested for this purpose could result in inhumane treatment. David Lubarsky, who chairs the anesthesiology department at the University of Miami's medical school, said, “People should not be using inmates as an experiment. And that is basically what this is. It's basically experimenting." Up until a few years ago, all states carrying out lethal injections used sodium thiopental as the first of three drugs in their protocol. States were forced to seek alternative drugs when the manufacturer stopped making sodium thiopental in response to objections about its use in executions. Oklahoma was the first state to employ pentobarbital, a sedative commonly used by veterinarians to euthanize animals, but that drug is now in short supply for executions. Last year, Missouri announced plans to use propofol for lethal injections, though the manufacturer of that drug has also restricted its sale. Arkansas also plans to use the drug lorazepam prior to the execution as a sedative. However, Jon Groner, a surgery professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, said lorazepam makes some people excitable, instead of relaxed.

Lethal Injection Developments Around the Country

Controversies surrounding lethal injections continue in many parts of the country. In Georgia, the legislature passed a bill to classify the names of those involved in executions as “state secrets.” The bill requires the identity of any entity that “manufactures, supplies, compounds or prescribes” lethal injection drugs to be kept secret. In Arkansas, a state judge ruled that death row inmates cannot use the state's Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about the source, history, or quality of the drugs the state will use during execution. An attorney for the inmates claimed they should have a right to the information because of problems with drugs obtained in the past. On March 25, a federal appeals court heard arguments in a case involving death row inmates from across the country arguing that the Food and Drug Administration acted inappropriately in 2010 when it allowed some states to import lethal injection drugs from foreign sources. Eric Shumsky, an attorney representing the inmates, said, “This case is … about ensuring that illegal drugs are not used in carrying out otherwise legal executions.” Also recently, the Israel-based drug company Teva announced that it would resume manufacturing the sedative propofol, but would not allow its use in executions. Missouri has proposed using propofol for its executions.

The Changing Face of the Death Penalty in American Politics

A recent column in The Economist examined the growing number of governors and other political leaders in the U.S. who are challenging the death penalty. In Arkansas, Governor Mike Beebe (pictured) announced in January that he would sign a death penalty abolition bill if the legislature sent him one. In Maryland, Governor Martin O'Malley has led a push to repeal the death penalty. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said he is reconsidering his support for the death penalty as that state considers its repeal. New Hampshire's new governor, Maggie Hassan, indicated she would sign a repeal bill if it reaches her, after two previous governors vetoed such actions. In Oregon, Governor John Kitzhaber suspended executions for the remainder of his term and asked legislators to review the issue. The Republican governors of Ohio and Kansas also have reservations about the death penalty. Governor John Kasich of Ohio has granted four commutations in capital cases, citing the need for fair trials, and Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas said capital punishment should be reserved for figures like Osama bin Laden. The author in The Economist contrasted these developments with Arkansas' former governor, Bill Clinton, who flew home from campaigning for president in 1992 to oversee an execution.  The article stated, "[T]he death-penalty debate has changed in ways that go beyond day-to-day politics. It is less loud and more sceptical, giving thoughtful governors room to question a policy that causes them anguish—because they think it arbitrary, ineffective and costly, and because they impose it."

NEW VOICES: Arkansas Governor Reverses Position on Death Penalty

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe recently said he would sign legislation outlawing the death penalty if legislators were to send him such a bill. Beebe ran for governor as a supporter of capital punishment, but said the experience of signing a death warrant for the first time caused his thinking on the issue to change. “It is an agonizing process, whether you're for the death penalty or against the death penalty," the governor said. "Everybody can claim they're for it until you're actually the person who's got to sign it." Arkansas has not had an execution since 2005, and has only sentenced one new person to death in the last two years. In 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s execution law after finding problems with how the lethal injection drugs used in executions were selected.

MULTIMEDIA: Peter Jackson's "West of Memphis"--A Compelling Story from Condemnation to Freedom

West of Memphis is a feature-length documentary by Academy-Award winner Peter Jackson, offering a penetrating look into the murder convictions and eventual freeing of the West Memphis Three. Jackson has called it his "most important film." Three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, were convicted of killing three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Echols was sentenced to death after a trial that painted the defendants as steeped in satanic rituals. Subsequent DNA evidence did not connect them to the crime scene. After almost two decades of steadfastly claiming their innocence, and the constant work of a large community of activists, celebrities such as Eddie Vedder and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, and their legal team, the defendants were released in 2011, accepting a guilty plea in which they maintained their innocence. “West of Memphis” will debut in select theaters on December 25.  View the trailer.

FOREIGN NATIONALS: Information About Citizens from Other Countries on U.S. Death Rows

New information on foreign nationals facing the death penalty in the U.S. is now available on DPIC’s Foreign Nationals page. This page provides background information on citizens from other countries who have been sentenced to death in various states and under the federal system.  The list includes information on whether these defendants were informed of their consular rights under the Vienna Convention, which the U.S. has ratified and depends upon to protect its citizens when they travel abroad.  Some foreign nationals have been executed in the U.S. despite not being properly informed of their rights under this treaty.  The new information was provided by Mark Warren of Human Rights Research.

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