In spite of objections from the state attorney general, the Arkansas Supreme Court allowed nine death row inmates more time to prepare legal arguments against the state's lethal injection procedures.
The attorney general had asked the court to expedite the case. A strong reason for moving quickly is that in June one of the drugs used in Arkansas lethal injections will expire.
State officials have not yet located a new supplier willing to sell new drugs, so if the legal challenge extends until June the inmates will have won a reprieve.
The attorney general said that the inmates' request for more time to prepare legal briefs was an attempt to "run the clock" out because even if the state wins on the merits of its case, after June it will be very difficult for the state to locate drugs for lethal injection. That means the state would not be able to uphold its duty to carry out the sentences imposed by juries when they convicted the inmates on death row, the attorney general argued.
Attorneys for the death row inmates said that the availability of approved lethal injection drugs should have no bearing on the court's deliberations. The case is complex and men's lives are at stake, they argued.
At issue is the constitutionality of Act 1096 of 2015, which sets out lethal injection procedures. One provision in the act makes confidential the name of the suppliers of the drugs used in lethal injection.
That confidentiality provision was immediately challenged in legal filings by the inmates' attorneys, who said it violated previous legal agreements that allowed the inmates to inspect the drugs.
Their stated intent is to avoid a botched execution that draws out the time it takes for the inmate to die, which would be "cruel and unusual punishment."
Under Act 1096, prison officials who execute an inmate by lethal injection shall first administer a barbiturate, or Midazolam, followed by vecuronium bromide, followed by potassium chloride. The drugs must be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration and made by a manufacturer approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
The names of the prison officials who carry out the lethal injection are not subject to public disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, nor is the identity of the person or company that supplies the drugs.
There are 34 men on death row. The last time Arkansas executed a prisoner was in 2005. The state has executed six men since the beginning of 2000, all for capital murder. In fact, the overwhelming majority of inmates executed were convicted of capital murder.
In 1964 a Jefferson County man was executed for rape and murder. In 1956 a Nevada County man was executed for rape and in 1952 a Hempstead County man was executed for rape.
The last time Arkansas executed an inmate in the electric chair was in 1990. The last execution by hanging was in 1914. The first man to be executed in the electric chair in Arkansas was convicted of rape in 1913.
According to Correction Department records, since 1913 Arkansas has executed 195 men and one woman.