2017-03-29 15:10:25 UTC
Arkansas Faces Lawsuits Over Plan To Kill 8 Men In 10 Days----One expert called
the state's death penalty plans "mind-boggling."
Arkansas' plan to execute 8 death-row prisoners within 10 days next month has
been attacked as cruel and unusual in 2 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
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
"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 8 in 10
days. It's a bit mind-boggling."
Double executions are uncommon, even in active death-penalty states like Texas.
After Oklahoma's botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett in 2014 - which
had been part of a scheduled double execution - Texas recommended spacing its
executions at least a week apart. Missouri recently adopted a rule limiting
executions to no more than once a month.
The lawsuits against Arkansas say the pace of the scheduled executions and the
state's secretive lethal injection protocol violates inmates' rights to counsel
and access to courts.
The state Department of Corrections did not respond to several requests for
Attorneys for the prisoners say there simply won't be enough time to defend
each client in the complex and fast-moving legal process that death warrants
Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, a sole practitioner who represents 3 of the 8 men
scheduled to die and is co-counsel for a 4th, said the scheduled procedures are
inconsistent with how the state used to run executions. Back in the 1990s, he
said, prison authorities were mostly "extremely cooperative" allowing lawyers
access to the inmates, informing counsel of developments and [allowing] more
than 1 lawyer to witness the execution.
"Of course, this was all before a couple of things," Rosenzweig said by phone
Tuesday. "There was a legislative decision to slap a veil of secrecy over so
much of [the process]. And secondly, in terms of communication with the court,
we weren't dealing with a substance that was" as controversial - the drug used
to make the lethal injection cocktail.
Attorneys from the federal public defender's office represent 2 of the
condemned inmates and serve as co-counsel for 2 others, including a pair of
clients set to be executed on the same day.
"Attorneys with multiple clients "will potentially be required to challenge the
execution process up until moments before, or even during, the execution
itself," one of the lawsuits says. "Then they will have to continue challenging
that process for another client just minutes after watching another client
Dale Baich, an assistant federal defender in Arizona who has worked on
death-row cases for 3 decades, said what the attorneys are being asked is
"impossible to do."
"To have three clients [facing execution] in a week ... it's outrageous," Baich
said. "It's unprecedented."
The short notice also reduces time for the clemency process, which violates the
inmates' right to due process, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The Corrections Department will only allow 1 attorney in the death chamber for
each execution. Other states don't generally restrict who the condemned selects
as witnesses (family, friends, lawyers and spiritual advisors are typical), but
do limit the number of witnesses due to the small capacity of most witness
rooms. Capacity for Arkansas, lawyers said, doesn't appear to be a credible
issue, as the state can't even find enough volunteers to serve as witnesses.
5 of the 8 men scheduled to die have filed clemency petitions. Hearings on the
petitions are scheduled in the 30 days prior to their scheduled executions - a
window normally blacked out, lawyers said. Attorneys further argued they are
restricted to 1 hour to present evidence supporting clemency for each client,
instead of the normal 2.
(source: Huffington Post)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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