Arkansas Faces Lawsuits Over Plan To Kill 8 Men In 11 Days

Rick Halperin, director of SMU's Embrey Human Rights Program, was quoted in this story as raising concerns about the executions.

By Kim Bellware

Arkansas’ plan to execute eight death-row prisoners over 11 days next month has been attacked as cruel and unusual in two federal lawsuits.

Suits filed Monday and Tuesday seek preliminary injunctions halting the four double executions scheduled from April 17 to April 27, alleging the rush violates the condemned men’s constitutional rights. The suits name Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley as defendants.

At a time when use of the death penalty is in gradual decline across the U.S., Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced last month the state would begin executing inmates who had exhausted state-level appeals. Arkansas hasn’t executed anyone in 12 years, and now seeks to jump-start lethal injections in ways that depart from its own protocols and the typical practices of other states. 

“This is way outside the norms,” said Rick Halperin, a death penalty expert at Southern Methodist University, said of the Arkansas execution schedule. “This state hasn’t carried out an execution in 12 years. Now they want to do eight in 11 days. It’s a bit mind-boggling.”  . . . 

The state argues a rapid pace of executions is a benefit to corrections staff. State secrecy laws shield details, so it’s unknown who participates and what training they have if something goes wrong. 

Halperin and others decry this secrecy, saying it’s bad for prisoners and for the public. 

“The death penalty is a public-policy issue and it’s funded in part by taxpayers’ money,” Halperin said. “If the state is so hell-bent on carrying out this as a public policy, they have a moral duty to carry this out as transparently as possible.” 


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