LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Lawyers for the state of Arkansas told a federal judge Tuesday that inmates set for execution during an unprecedented timetable are merely trying to run out the clock rather than raise valid issues about their clemency requests.
A key execution drug expires April 30, and eight inmates are due to die in four double-executions beginning April 17. Six of the inmates are seeking clemency and are asking for “significant and individualized” consideration of their requests.
Here’s where things stand with less than two weeks remaining before the executions are set to begin:
Lawyers for most of the inmates were in federal court Tuesday seeking additional consideration of their clemency requests. They say Arkansas’ “frantic pace” of executions threatens their lives.
A delay into May would effectively stop the lethal injections, because Arkansas has said it has difficulty obtaining the midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride it needs to put the men to death. The midazolam expires at the end of the month.
“This is nothing more than an attempt to get this court to judicially veto the executions,” said Nicholas Bronni, the state’s deputy solicitor general.
Federal public defender Julie Vandiver said that because the state was able to acquire potassium chloride recently, it was crying “wolf” when it said the state could never again obtain execution drugs after the midazolam expires.
“There is not a public interest in abridging the law … because there is an expiration date,” she told U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. Inmates deserve full hearings because, she said, “the Legislature did not say ‘Let’s kill people in the most-efficient manner.'”
The hearing will resume Wednesday.
A separate lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the executions; a hearing on it is scheduled for next week. In another case, the condemned inmates want the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision upholding Arkansas’ lethal injection law. It is scheduled for a conference on April 13 — four days before the executions are to begin.
The state Parole Board has conducted five clemency hearings and has another set for Friday. Two inmates did not apply for mercy. State policy calls for it to wrap up hearings 30 days ahead of an execution date, but Parole Board Chairman John Felts said that to give the inmates time to pull together their applications, the board’s deliberations cut into that 30-day window.
He said that Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson received the same clemency application packet at the same time board members received their packets. Hutchinson does not have to follow board decisions.
The Parole Board is considering whether it will recommend clemency for Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee, who are to die April 27 in the last set of four double executions. The board didn’t announce a decision Tuesday.
Williams acknowledged killing four people in separate incidents in 1998 and 1999, but told the panel he had found God in prison.
McGehee said he liked his victim — a teenager who had told police about a theft ring — and that he didn’t expect an attack to “go so far.”
TWO WEEKS AWAY
The first of the inmates, Bruce Earl Ward and Don William Davis, are scheduled to be executed on April 17. They most likely will be put to death in the order of their prisoner numbers. Six other inmates are to be put to death in double executions in the 10 days that follow.
Arkansas has not executed a prisoner since 2005 because of legal challenges to its lethal injection law and because of trouble obtaining the drugs needed to carry out the executions.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the use of the death penalty in 1976, only Texas has killed eight inmates in a month, doing it twice in 1997.
STATE COURT CASES
Inmate Stacey Johnson has asked the Arkansas Supreme Court for a stay so evidence in his case can be tested again, while Ward has asked the Jefferson County Court to stay his execution so he can present additional arguments.
In Pulaski County, which handles lawsuits against the state, a judge last month rejected another lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ lethal injection law, setting it up for a likely appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In a case without direct bearing on the execution timetable, a Little Rock lawyer wants access to labels and packing slips for recently acquired potassium chloride, to ensure it meets quality standards.
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