Arkansas has nearly three dozen inmates sitting on its death row, but like most states, it has not carried out an execution in years. This week, state officials said again that they intend to end that hiatus.
It has been a decade since Arkansas executed an inmate. But several moves made in the state and beyond this year have pointed to a new path for trying to resume lethal injections, even as the number of executions continues to decline across the country.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) has asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) to begin setting execution dates for inmates. Hutchinson’s office said this week that it had received the letters from Rutledge requesting execution dates, but it has not scheduled any so far, said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor.
Hutchinson intends to quickly set the dates, Davis said, but he did not have a specific timetable.
Earlier this year, the Arkansas Supreme Court said the state’s method of executing inmates is constitutional. The justices had struck down an earlier law on the state’s death penalty statute, ruling in 2012 that it was unconstitutional because it effectively gave too much leeway to the Department of Corrections.
The current death-penalty statute, by comparison, “provides reasonable guidelines” to corrections officials who will figure out the precise way to carry out a lethal injection, Justice Karen R. Baker wrote in a March opinion explaining the court’s 4-to-3 decision.
Rutledge, who as a candidate last year said she thought executions should resume, praised that decision.
“I am hopeful that this decision will allow the convictions of those on death row to move forward so that some closure and justice is brought to the families of the victims,” she said in a statement.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lethal-injection protocol in Oklahoma that involved the drug midazolam. This drug was used in three problematic lethal injections, and experts have questioned whether it can produce the deep level of unconsciousness needed to prevent inmates from feeling pain during the executions.
Officials in states that use midazolam or plan to said after the ruling that they wanted to move ahead with executions. Across the country, states continue scrambling for lethal injection drugs amid an ongoing shortage. As this uncertainty persists, some states have added other options, like Utah and the firing squad, Oklahoma and nitrogen gas and Tennessee and the electric chair. Still others have adopted new drugs and changed their protocols, sometimes multiple times; Ohio had used midazolam in a mishandled execution last year, and the state postponed all executions scheduled for this year while it changes the drugs it uses.
Lawmakers in Arkansas passed legislation before the U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows the state to use midazolam as part of a three-drug combination. The legislation also lets authorities hide the names of the companies that supply drugs for executions.
Arkansas officials said this summer they purchased lethal injection drugs, and the Associated Press reported last month that an invoice shows the state purchased midazolam for lethal injections.
There are 34 people on death row in the state, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Arkansas has carried out 27 executions, the 13th-highest total in that span. It has not executed an inmate since Eric Nance was put to death in 2005 for killing 18-year-old Julie Heath.