by Max Brantley
Arkansas’s plan to execute eight men in 11 days next month is a recipe for disaster, one entirely of the state’s making.The article recounts botched executions in other states and stress reported by Oklahoma execution team participants from doing two in one day.
Although the state has not put anyone to death since November 2005, it now says that it must execute two people per day on April 17, 20, 24 and 27 because its current supply of midazolam, one of its three execution drugs, will expire at the end of the month.
This will be the fastest spate of executions in any state in more than 40 years, placing extraordinary pressure on the execution team and increasing the risk of errors. What’s more, the state’s rationale for the schedule — the expiration date on its supply of midazolam, a common sedative — is faulty, because the drug shouldn’t be used in executions in the first place.
According to 16 pharmacology professors who signed an amicus brief for the Supreme Court, there is “overwhelming scientific consensus” that midazolam is incapable of inducing the “deep, comalike unconsciousness” necessary to ensure a humane and constitutional execution.
If Arkansas were to heed the warning of Oklahoma’s investigators, it would schedule its eight executions over two months. Instead, Arkansas’s execution team, which has not performed an execution in over a decade and has never performed an execution with midazolam, faces a daunting and relentless schedule of two executions per day, repeated four times over 11 days. The pressure on the team will be immense, and it will make mistakes more likely in a situation in which there is no margin for error.The article is skeptical of claims that the rush is required by uncertainty about obtaining the drugs. Other states have found new supplies, the article says.
We have seen this before. For years, states have cited concerns about drug availability to justify extreme secrecy and recklessness in their efforts to get drugs and perform executions. Arkansas is following this playbook to defend rushing through eight executions with a drug that science and experience tell us is wholly inadequate for the task and has already resulted in gruesome executions.Politics trumps all this, I believe. Arkansas strongly favors capital punishment, as does the governor. The governor doesn't see a political downside in the 10-day execution parade, not even from a gruesomely botched execution. And he's probably right.