LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – Bishop Anthony Taylor has asked Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to halt the eight executions planned for a 10-day span later this month.
In the appeal, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock requests that Mr. Hutchinson commute the sentences of all eight men to life in prison.
“Though guilty of heinous crimes,” said Bishop Taylor, “these men nevertheless retain the God-given dignity of any human life, which must be respected and defended from conception to natural death.”
Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, and the pace—which would involve four double-executions over the 10 days--has many concerned that the Department of Correction will be overwhelmed.
“The pace places undo stress on the guards,” said Rita Sklar, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. “This makes it easier for the DOC to make a mistake and could increase the likelihood of a botched execution.”
As evidence for the increased burden, Ms. Sklar pointed to Clayton Lockett’s recent failed execution.
In 2014, Oklahoma attempted to conduct a double execution with a previously untested mixture of drugs, which included midazolam—a drug Arkansas also plans to use. However during the process, the IV became dislodged and the drugs were not successfully introduced into Lockett’s blood stream and were instead absorbed by his muscles. He later died of a heart attack, and the second execution scheduled was stayed for 14 days.
Oklahoma has since halted the practice of executing two inmates on the same day; they now require a space of seven days between executions. Arkansas has scheduled four consecutive double executions, even though the state has not attempted one double execution since Alan Willett and Mark Gardner on September 8, 1999.
However, Mr. Hutchinson has expressed his confidence in the state’s ability to execute nearly a quarter of Arkansas's death row inmates.
"We're confident that the Department of Correction has the resources and knowledge to do what they do," said J.R. Davis, the director of communications at the governor's office.
Ms. Sklar however questioned the process, referring to the compressed schedule as an “assembly line of death.”
Part of the perceived rush stems from the state’s stock of midazolam, which is set to expire on April 30. The state has yet to conduct an execution using the drug, and no state has ever successfully used the drug in a double execution.
According to Mr. Davis, the governor wants to “complete the process quickly,” but he wants to insure “he gives each case the appropriate amount of attention” before he decides whether or not to grant clemency.
Bishop Taylor has requested a meeting with Mr. Hutchison before the executions begin.
“I know as governor you feel responsible for fulfilling the law (the death penalty) but the law also puts the ultimate responsibility on your shoulders to follow a higher law, the divine law,” said Bishop Taylor. “I appeal to you to do so — and not only out of concern for these eight men, but also out of concern for the damage that the death penalty does to all of us as a society.”