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Saturday, April 08, 2017

Get the killing ritual done before the expiration date

by digby

Via Washington Post:

Arkansas is preparing to execute seven death row inmates in 11 days this month before the state’s deadly drugs expire, an unprecedented number of lethal injections in such a narrow window.

The hurried schedule has prompted unease from the state’s Republican governor, lawsuits from the condemned inmates, and criticism from an array of former corrections officials nationwide.

Though the death penalty has been dormant in Arkansas — these would be the first executions there in 12 years — the lethal injections have put the state at the center of the debate about capital punishment as it becomes less common in the United States. Fewer states are putting condemned inmates to death, public support for executions is declining and authorities are struggling to find the drugs used in lethal injections amid a shortage spurred in part by drugmakers’ objections to the death penalty.

Advocates for capital punishment argue that the delays in Arkansas amount to justice denied for the families of the victims. Civil liberties advocates worry that the rush in Arkansas could lead to “torture and injustice,” in particular because corrections officials are being tasked with executing two men a day.

Arkansas officials blame the packed April execution schedule on the drug shortage, which has sent states scrambling for replacement chemicals and, in some cases, has caused them to contemplate other methods of execution. After the lengthy lull in executions — owing to legal challenges and the drug shortage — Arkansas state authorities say the lethal injections scheduled between April 17 and April 27 are overdue.

But Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who set the dates, admitted to feeling uneasy about being caught between needing to schedule them and the looming expiration of the state’s stock of midazolam, a controversial sedative that will be one of three drugs used in the lethal injections.

“It’s not my choice,” Hutchinson said at a news conference. “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.”

The state’s midazolam supply is set to expire at the end of April, officials say. And with no clear answer about whether the state will be able to obtain a new set of drugs, Hutchinson said he had little choice but to set the dates.

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

Drug manufacturers are required by law to put an expiration date on drugs in the United States, and after that date they cannot guarantee the drug’s effectiveness or safety. A state corrections department spokesman declined to answer questions about the state’s decision to act before the expiration date.

Arkansas acquired its midazolam in 2015, according to documents the state provided to The Washington Post. The drug prompted controversy after it was used in a bungled execution in Oklahoma and in lethal injections that were prolonged and included inmates gasping for breath in Ohio, Arizona and, most recently, in Alabama in December. According to the Arkansas documents, the state got its midazolam just days after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of the drug in Oklahoma’s lethal injections.

Citing the state’s secrecy law, the Corrections Department declined to say when all the drugs expire, where they were obtained, how much they cost and how much the state has in stock. The documents also show that Arkansas obtained vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, in 2016, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart, in March, the week after Hutchinson set the execution dates.

Hutchinson originally scheduled eight executions in an 11-day span, but a judge on Thursday blocked one of them because the state’s parole board said it would recommend commuting that inmate’s sentence to life in prison without parole, a process that will extend beyond the drug expiration date.

The seven inmates still facing execution all were convicted of capital murder. All are men; four are black and three are white. They all received their sentences by the year 2000, and some of them have been on death row for a quarter-century or longer. In a recent report, the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School said it found concerns with the Arkansas cases, saying that some of the inmates appear to suffer from intellectual impairment and outlining qualms about the legal representation the men have had.

Read the whole thing for the details if you can stomach it.

I will never understand the reasoning that says the state killing an unarmed, incarcerated man is a moral practice. I get self-defense. I even understand war in certain unavoidable circumstances. But our capricious system whereby only certain guilty people are killed while others aren't, and doing it in such a highly ritualized fashion, has all the hallmarks of some kind of religious sacrifice rather than anything one might call "justice."

The Aztecs were much more efficient. They would rip out the hearts of their human sacrifices on the alter within seconds and get the whole thing over with. Of course they did thousands at a time. We're just rushing through a handful for practical reasons so apparently we're much more moral in our sacrificial rites.

I guess revenge makes people feel better. But in my experience it's a lot like jealousy. It's poisonous to the human spirit. It's understandable that people desire it. It's not so understandable why a society would encourage it. It's poisonous to a culture too.