Rob Burgess

On April 30, Arkansas’ supply of lethal injection anesthetic, midazolam, will expire. So, even though it hasn’t carried out one since 2005, the state hastily planned eight executions — until U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker stepped in.

“Baker has issued an order halting Arkansas’ plan,” reported the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Gavin Lesnick and Emma Pettit on Saturday, “creating another barrier to the state’s plan to put them to death over an 11-day period starting Monday. Arkansas [Attorney General Leslie Rutledge] ... filed a notice of appeal with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling came a day after the Arkansas Supreme Court first issued an emergency stay blocking Bruce Earl Ward’s execution. ... Eight inmates were originally set to be killed, though a federal judge earlier granted one of them a reprieve.”

Monday, Rutledge’s state Supreme Court motion appealing Ward’s stay failed. The case of another inmate scheduled to die Monday will be heard by the full U.S. Supreme Court. “Convicted murderer Don Davis had been in a holding cell at the Cummins Unit in Lincoln County,” reported the paper’s Brandon Riddle late Monday. “In a U.S. Supreme Court ruling shortly before midnight, Justice Samuel Alito declined to lift the stay.”

Arkansas’ drug shortage has become an increasingly common one. As I wrote in my May 7, 2014 column, “Our (lethal injection) drug problem,” America’s supply of deadly Pentothal used in lethal injections was cut off in early 2011 after manufacturer Hospira discontinued production over moral objections. The shortage has led to use of secretive, less reliable ingredients. In Jan. 16, 2014, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire gasped for breath for 25 minutes during his final punishment. April 29, 2014, Oklahoma prisoner Clayton Darrell Lockett died 43 minutes after his botched lethal injection began — from a heart attack. The horror continued. As I wrote in my July 30, 2014 column, “Let’s put lethal injection to sleep,” July 23, 2014, the execution of Arizona death row inmate James Rudolph Wood III took nearly two hours and was punctuated by snorting and gasping.

Besides, considering the case of the West Memphis Three, Arkansas in particular shouldn’t be rushing to execute anyone. (And if you haven’t seen them, you simply must watch the documentaries: 1996’s “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” 2000’s “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations,” 2011’s “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” and 2012’s “West of Memphis.”) One of the three teenagers wrongfully convicted in 1994 of a 1993 triple murder, Damien Echols, returned Friday to Arkansas along with actor Johnny Depp to protest the state’s plan. By the time Echols was released along with Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin on Aug. 19, 2011 after they submitted Alford pleas (in which you plead guilty but maintain your innocence), he had spent more than half his life on Arkansas’ death row. April 11, he told NBC News Arkansas’ new plan was a “conveyor belt of death.”

A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Samuel R. Gross found 1 in every 25 executed death row prisoners are innocent. “Since 1973, 144 people on death row have been exonerated,” reported Newsweek’s Pema Levy on April 28, 2014. “As a percentage of all death sentences, that’s just 1.6 percent. But if the innocence rate is 4.1 percent, more than twice the rate of exoneration, the study suggests ... an untold number of innocent people have been executed.”

Even if you disagree with me on the death penalty itself, nothing about our imperfect system run by fallible humans suggests we should speed up the process by unreliable means.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

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