Ark. Rushes to Execute 8 Men in Almost as Many Days—Half of Them Black

Clockwise from top left: Bruce Ward, Kenneth Williams, Jack Harold Jones, Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Don Williamson Davis, Marcel Williams and Ledell Lee (Arkansas Department of Correction)
Clockwise from top left: Bruce Ward, Kenneth Williams, Jack Harold Jones, Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Don Williamson Davis, Marcel Williams and Ledell Lee (Arkansas Department of Correction)

In what only can be described as a mad rush toward death, the state of Arkansas plans to execute eight inmates in April because of a looming expiration date for a drug the state uses in executions.


The New York Times reports that all eight men—four black, four white—were convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999, and so, after waiting for at least 15 years, they will be put to death by the state next month, all within the span of 10 days.

Arkansas’s governor, Asa Hutchinson, said he didn’t love the fact that the executions are so close together, but he’s moving forward anyway.

“I would love to have those extended over a period of multiple months and years, but that’s not the circumstances that I find myself in,” said Hutchinson, a Republican former federal prosecutor, in a statement Friday.

Hutchinson deemed it necessary to schedule the executions close together because of doubts about the future availability of midazolam, one of three drugs the state uses in its lethal-injection procedure. Critics of the drug contend that inmates are sometimes able to feel pain, and say it has been the culprit in several bungled and inhumane executions in recent years.

Because of the controversy, many pharmaceutical companies have restricted their drugs from use for capital punishment, and some states have difficulty finding midazolam. Arizona announced last year that it would stop using it in part because of the logistical challenges; some lawmakers in Mississippi actually proposed using a firing squad because of such issues.


“It is uncertain as to whether another drug can be obtained,” Hutchinson said in the statement, “and the families of the victims do not need to live with continued uncertainty after decades of review.”

This week, the governor signed proclamations setting four execution dates for the eight inmates between April 17 and 27. Two men would be put to death on each of the four dates.


If Arkansas follows that timetable, it will earn the distinction of killing prisoners at a rate unmatched by any state since the United States resumed the death penalty in 1977.

Brian Stull, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that something was more likely to go wrong with such an aggressive execution schedule.


“Each of these prisoners is a person with rights that have to be honored, and each execution is a process that needs to be planned and handled with care and close attention to detail,” he said. “And that’s just impossible for Arkansas on this schedule. Because they’re trying to do too much, too quickly, with too little preparation. It’s likely to lead to botched executions.”

The death penalty, of course, has been proved to be racially biased. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that of the chief district attorneys in counties using the death penalty in the United States, nearly 98 percent are white and only 1 percent are African American. Further, it reports:

Examinations of the relationship between race and the death penalty, with varying levels of thoroughness and sophistication, have now been conducted in every major death penalty state. ... Race is more likely to affect death sentencing than smoking affects the likelihood of dying from heart disease. The latter evidence has produced enormous changes in law and societal practice, while racism in the death penalty has been largely ignored.


Read more at the New York Times.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.



4 black, 4 white. Yay for equality!