Arkansas set to execute eight inmates, but can't proceed without enough 'respectable witnesses'

Washington: The US state of Arkansas plans to put to death eight death row inmates this month but authorities can't find enough "respectable citizens" to witness the executions, a pace death penalty opponents say is "unprecedented" in recent American history.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Arkansas, the home state of former US president Bill Clinton, is set to carry out two executions a day on four days between 17 and 27 April. Multiple lawsuits have been filed over the schedule, citing concerns about the speed. But Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has defended the planned executions, saying the deaths will bring closure to victims' families.

The state code requires that no fewer than six "respectable citizens" be present at each execution. And it's having a hard time finding enough volunteers to witness them, CNN reported.

The volunteer pool is apparently thin enough that state Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley invited members of a local Rotary Club to volunteer, it said. "Temporarily, there was a little laugh from the audience because they thought she might be kidding," Bill Booker, acting president of the Little Rock Rotary Club, told FOX16. "It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding."

Kelley's "informal efforts" continue, the department said. "We remain confident in our ability to carry out these sentences," spokesman Solomon Graves said.

The people who are allowed to witness an execution vary by state, said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington DC. Typically, family members of the inmate and relatives of the victims are present, he said. Sometimes, a state requires that lay people who have no stake in the case are present, too.

That could be a member of the media or a citizen witness, such as in Arkansas. The Arkansas Code does not require that witnesses vary from execution to execution. So, it's conceivable that some of the volunteers could witness more than one, Dunham said.

"It's not natural watching the intentional taking of a human life," he said. "It has an emotional impact on people." And witnessing multiple execution more than just doubles the impact, he said. "It increases exponentially."

Meanwhile, death penalty opponents have called the move by the Arkansas state as "unprecedented." No US state has executed this many people in such a short span since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, media reports said. The closest was Texas, which executed eight men in May and June of 1997, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

The series of execution has been attributed to the state's soon-to-be-expire supply of midazolam, a contentious drug that's been blamed for a spate of botched executions in recent years.

The executions would mark the first time since 2005 that Arkansas has put an inmate to death.

Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 19:23 PM

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