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Religious Tolerance logo

2017-APR: Arkansas executes
inmates on death row. Court battles:

Part 2

death penalty symbol

Symbol of death penalty by injection.
Image downloaded from Pixabay.

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This topic is continued here from the previous essay.

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Support for the death penalty in Arkansas and the rest of the U.S. (Cont'd):

Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, helped design the Arkansas poll. He commented:

"... Arkansans solidly support the application of the death penalty with over six in ten respondents favoring the death penalty while fewer than three in ten support life without parole for those convicted of capital offenses.

Although [a majority of] all age groups are supportive of the death penalty, the youngest Arkansans (those under 30) are the group most likely to be undecided on the issue.

While white Arkansans are overwhelmingly supportive of the death penalty (just under 2/3rd support), African-Americans are evenly split on it. Still, compared to African-Americans nationally, this is relatively strong support. (Nationally, majorities of African-Americans oppose the imposition of the death penalty, according to Gallup). ..." 1

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Arkansas originally planned to execute eight inmates on Death Row:

Between 2017-APR-17 and 26, the state had planned eight executions during ten days.

The Fair Punishment Project is "a joint initiative of Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute and its Criminal Justice Institute. 2 The project's web site reviewed all eight inmates and concluded:

"At least five of the eight cases cases involve a person who appears to suffer from a serious mental illness or intellectual impairment. One of these men was twenty at the time of the crime, suffered a serious head injury, and has a 70 IQ score. Another man suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and believes that he is on a mission from God. He sees both his deceased father and reincarnated dogs around the prison. A sixth condemned inmate endured shocking sexual and physical abuse -- he was burned, beaten, stabbed, and raped, and his mother pimped him out to various adults throughout his preteen and teen years. In the two remaining cases, there is no evidence to suggest that the attorneys ever conducted even a minimally adequate mitigation investigation to determine if their clients had any illnesses or disabilities.

Across the eight cases, the quality of lawyering that we detected falls short of any reasonable standard of effectiveness -- one lawyer was drunk in court, while another struggled with mental illness. Several of the lawyers missed deadlines, failed to visit their clients, and continued on a case despite the appearance of a conflict of interest. Taken together, these cases present a foundational challenge to the legitimacy and integrity of the death penalty in Arkansas. The Governor should declare a moratorium on executions so these legal deficiencies can be given a closer look, or else the Courts must intervene to stop these executions in order to preserve public confidence in the rule of law." 2

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Conflicts in the Arkansas courts:

  • 2017-APR-14: Judge Wendell Griffen of Arkansas' Pulaski County ruled on a lawsuit initiated by one of the inmates who was scheduled to be executed in late April. The judge issued a temporary restraining order that restricting the state from using the drug Vecuronium Bromide during executions.

    McKesson Medical Surgical, Inc. is the supplier of this drug in the U.S. They objected to the use of their product to kill people. They said that the drug was intended for medical uses only. They argued in court that they had been misled by the Akansas Department of Corrections about their intended use of the drug. Their brief to the court said that the Arkansas Department of Corrections personnel had:

    "... used an existing medical license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical uses, and an irregular ordering process to obtain the Vecuronium via phone order with a McKesson salesperson."

    McKesson had asked the state to return the ten vials of the drug that they had in stock. The vendor returned the purchase price, but the state kept the drugs.

    Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas' Attorney General stated that, since Judge Griffen was a known opponent of capital punishment, he should have recused himself from the case.

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The Arkansas Supreme Court later nullified the restraining order so that executions could proceed. 3

  • On APR-17, the state Supreme Court voted 4-3 to halt the executions of Bruce Ward and Don Davis. 4

  • On APR-19: Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray also ruled in favor of McKesson. The drug company's representative had testified that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out. 4 Judge Gray wrote:

    "Irreparable harm will result. Harm that could not be addressed by (monetary) damages." 4

Referring to this ruling and an earlier decision by the state Supreme Court, Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) said:

"I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court’s review." 4

Also on APR-19, the state Supreme Court again voted 4-3 to grant a stay of execution to Stacey Johnson, who had been scheduled to die the next day. 4

  • On APR-21, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to allow Lendell Lee's execution to proceed. Conservative Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kennedy, Roberts, and Thomas voted as a block in favor of the death penalty. Liberal Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor voted as a dissenting block against the executions. 5

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This topic is continued in the next essay.

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Related essays on this web site that you might find interesting:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Roby Brock, "Poll: Support For Death Penalty Strong In Arkansas," KUAR-FM, 2017-ARR-10, at:
  2. "Prisoners on Arkansas’s Execution List Defined By Mental Illness, Intellectual Disability, and Bad Lawyering," Fair Punishment Project, 2017-MAR-30, at:
  3. "Judge issues temporary restraining order halting Arkansas executions," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2017-APR-14, at:
  4. Kelly P. Kissel & Jill Bleed, "Judge blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug," USA Today, 2017-APR-29, at:
  5. Charles Fain Lehman, "Gorsuch’s First Major Vote Breaks Tie to Allow Arkansas Execution," Washington Free Beacon, 2017-APR-21, at:

How you may have arrived here:

Copyright © 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted on: 2017-APR-29
B.A. Robinson
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