Arkansas schedules first executions in 10 years but expects legal challenge

Arkansas will resume lethal injections after a 10-year gap starting next month with a double execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson said on Wednesday as he announced execution dates for eight death-row inmates.

Arkansas hasn’t executed an inmate since 2005, largely because of court challenges to the state’s lethal injection law and a nationwide shortage in the drugs Arkansas has used during executions.

But last week, the state attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, sent letters to the governor requesting that execution dates be set. Rutledge said the inmates’ appeals had been exhausted, and the state department of corrections said it had purchased enough doses of its lethal-injection drugs to perform the executions.

Hutchinson acknowledged, however, that he expects the dates to be challenged.

One pending lawsuit challenges a new state law that allows the corrections department not to disclose how it obtains its execution drugs. Federal courts, including the US supreme court, have rejected similar arguments used by inmates in Missouri, Texas and other states that also allow prisons to keep their drug suppliers’ names secret.

Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig is representing the eight inmates, along with a ninth death-row inmate whose case is still being appealed, in the lawsuit. Rosenzweig said earlier this month that he plans to file motions to delay any execution date the governor set.

The first two executions are scheduled for 21 October.

Arkansas has executed 27 people since the US supreme court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976, though none since Eric Nance was put to death in 2005 for the killing of 18-year-old Julie Heath of Malvern.

Arkansas’s execution protocol calls for a three-drug process. The department of corrections said that as of 1 July, it had enough of the drugs, including midazolam, to perform the executions.

Midazolam was implicated after executions last year in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma went longer than expected, with inmates gasping and groaning as they died. The US supreme court approved continued use of the drug in June, rejecting a challenge from three Oklahoma death-row inmates.