Arkansas is planning to execute eight men in April by lethal injections that will include a drug that has been linked to botched executions (video below).
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed the paperwork for eight inmates to be executed between April 17 and 27, which is an unprecedented schedule in modern U.S. history, notes Democracy Now.
Megan McCracken, a lawyer with the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, told Democracy Now that the reason for the rushed executions is because Arkansas' supply of the drug midazolam is set to expire:
Midazolam is a anti-anxiety drug, a benzodiazepine. It is potent as an anti-anxiety drug, and it’s used perioperatively around surgery. But it is not an anesthetic drug. So that means it’s not used to take a person who is awake and conscious, it’s not used alone to put that person under surgical anesthesia and then keep that person there.
And the reason that’s relevant is because that’s what’s needed for an execution to be humane, to comport with the Constitution. And so, this drug is inappropriate for the task. And so you have this situation created by the state where it’s rushing to use a drug before it expires, even though the drug itself is inappropriate for the use.
Midazolam had been linked to botched and painful executions in other states.
McCracken said some inmates remained alive longer than expected during lethal executions involving midazolam:
So, because it’s not an anesthetic drug, it cannot maintain anesthesia, meaning it can’t keep the prisoner insensate to pain and suffering. We’ve seen, time and time again, when midazolam is used in executions, things don’t go as planned.
And so, we have seen executions, like Dennis McGuire in Ohio, Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, Joe Wood in Arizona, where the prisoner remained alive, much longer than anticipated, and the eyewitnesses describe struggling, writhing, gasping.
In January 2014, McGuire's children, Amber and Dennis McGuire, filed a lawsuit against the state of Ohio alleging that their father's Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he choked, gasped and fought against his restraints for about 10 minutes before dying, noted The Columbus Dispatch at the time.
The drugs used to execute the 53-year-old inmate were midazolam, and hydromorphone, a derivative of morphine; that combination had not been previously used in the U.S. for an execution.
Ohio had switched to the two drugs because drug manufacturers refused to sell pentobarbital for executions.
The condemned man was convicted of murdering and raping Joy Stewart, who was 30 weeks pregnant, in 1989. After choking, stabbing and slitting the throat of the 22-year-old woman, McGuire dumped her body in a wooded area near Eaton, Ohio.