by Max Brantley
ON APRIL 17, the state of Arkansas plans to kill Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward, two men who have been on death row since the early 1990s. Neither has applied for clemency. Both will die on the same gurney, back to back, if all goes according to plan. Executioners will start by injecting them with a sedative called midazolam, never before used by the state, but which is supposed to render them unconscious for the two lethal drugs to follow. No one, apart from a handful of officials, knows where the drugs will come from, or who exactly will do the injecting. Those are secrets under the law. Most importantly, no one knows how well the midazolam will work, if it works at all. After nearly 12 years without a single execution, Arkansas is embarking on a kind of human experiment.There's a trove of history here including accounts of a double-header execution and two triple-headers in recent times; correspondence between death penalty opponents Freddie and Vic Nixon with Bill Clinton (Nixon, a Methodist minister, married Bill and Hillary Clinton); the gruesome time of the electric chair which led to the current more "visually palatable" process. The article recounts a failed electrocution, a spectacle decried by newspapers at the time.
The Democrat’s editorial page called it a “horrible and revolting disgrace on the state of Arkansas,” calling for experts to carry out executions, and exhorting the governor to ensure that “there are no repetitions of this horrible human butchery.” Yet less than a year later, Arkansas carried out a quadruple execution, only to realize as officials prepared to bury the four men, that one of them was still alive. This time, the press was a bit more matter-of-fact. “He was taken from the coffin and again placed in the electric chair,” according to one report.