LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - One week before executions are scheduled to begin, a new trial began Monday, which could be the last, best hope for the seven men who are scheduled to die later this month.
Inside the federal courthouse in downtown Little Rock, lawyers for the seven condemned inmates argued that midazolam, the first drug in the series of the three-drug cocktail the state plans to use, violates the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“[Arkansas is] using a protocol, a system, that is going to cause torture,” said Jeff Rosenzweig, who represents three of the death row inmates, “and as a society, that’s not acceptable.”
Midazolam is a sedative and it is blamed for botched executions in Oklahoma, Arizona, and other states. It became part of Arkansas’ execution protocol in 2015, so this will be the first time Arkansas uses it.
”The second and third drugs [vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride] will cause unconstitutional pain, suffering, and torture, unless the person is totally knocked out, insensate to pain, by the first drug,” Rosenzweig explained. “The problem is, midazolam does not work that way.”
Attorneys for the state called it a “frivolous” lawsuit, and claimed the issues discussed Monday have been presented and dismissed in other cases.
“This isn’t like we’re challenging the food in the cafeteria,” Rosenzweig stated. “This is serious business.”
The attorneys for the inmates called expert witnesses from North Carolina and Ohio who testified on midazolam’s ineffectiveness in the execution protocol and also stated that the rushed timeline means the inmates cannot get adequate representation. Doctor Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist from Emory University in Atlanta, also testified that midazolam won't prevent pain, but will prevent the memory of pain.
"I would never use a medication with an expiration date within a matter of days," he stated during the trial.
After the conclusion of Monday’s testimony, Rosenzweig said he understands why some of the victims’ families want the inmates to die, but he believes keeping them alive, in prison, a little longer is the correct thing to do.
“These people are not on the street,” he mentioned. “They’re not walking around going to a football game. They are in maximum security and even if a sentence is commuted, the person is going to be doing life without parole. It’s not like there’s no punishment. The issue is whether the state is going to seek, essentially, some form of just plain retribution.”
Attorneys for the state chose not to comment after Monday’s hearing. In the past, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has described the lawsuit as “another in a long series of efforts to halt [the inmates’] lawful executions.”
“You’re always going to feel a race against the clock on something like this,” Rosenzweig replied. “There’s no way around it.”
The case will continue Tuesday, and is expected to run at least until Thursday.