by Max Brantley
The governor’s reasoning is absurd. Arkansas’ supply of midazolam, a sedative and one of the three drugs used in its cocktail, has a shelf life that is about to expire. The drug is hard to find because the company that makes it is shying away from bad publicity. In a narrow 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices did not completely ban midazolam’s use. But, the drug has caused problems and experts are in sharp disagreement as to whether midazolam can truly prevent inmates from experiencing excruciating pain during their executions.Grisham finds fault with more than pharmaceutical issues. He says the condemned prisoners, some of whom share lawyers, don't have adequate representation for the complext process of last-minute execution appeals. He notes Arkansas is violating its own laws and policies in the clemency process. Federal Judge Price Marshall has called the process beyond shoddy, but has still allowed the executions to proceed in all but one case. He mentions, too, the burden on those who must carry out mutliple executions in a short period. It will be a "brutalizing" experience, he said, even with no surprises.
...Arkansas has not executed anyone in nearly 12 years and has never done so with midazolam. Under its current scheme, midazolam is injected first and is supposed to render the inmate unconscious. Once he’s out of it, vecuronium bromide and later potassium chloride are injected to first paralyze the condemned man and then stop his heart. On paper, the execution looks quick, painless, and in compliance with the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. However, given midazolam’s wretched history, along with the state’s lack of experience with the drug, plus the enormous pressure being placed on the execution team, a disaster could well be in the works.
Hutchinson should accept last week’s judicial ruling and abandon this whole misguided schedule. It undermines the gravity of our legal process and the death penalty itself by denying the eight due process, full access to their lawyers and established clemency proceedings. It risks the specter of botched executions, which would haunt everyone involved and take an incredible emotional toll on the innocent staff. The plan simply risks too much.In addition to his many novels, Grisham wrote a non-fiction book about a man who spent 11 years on Death Row before being exonerated. His novel "The Confession" is a fictional account of an innocent man on Death Row in Texas, one of several dealing with death penalty cases.
An execution is the most serious act a government can undertake. Why assume so many risks in the name of expediency?
Even if Arkansas pulls it off, justice will lose.