There is one obvious takeaway from Arkansas’ chaotic and misguided attempt to execute eight death row prisoners in a span of 11 days, including two who were put to death on Monday and one scheduled to die Thursday night.
The death penalty is arbitrary. It is unfair. And it should have no place in the American justice system.
As a newspaper that opposes capital punishment, we ask this question: Why these eight men, and why now? All eight had been sitting on death row since at least 2000 – one since 1989, when President George H.W. Bush was in office.
On top of that, Arkansas had not executed a death row inmate since 2005 and seemed in no hurry to do so – until the state discovered that its Midazolam, a controversial lethal injection drug, expired at the end of April. This is the same drug administered in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, where witnesses said the inmates writhed in apparent pain on the gurney.
Are drug expiration dates our new standard of justice?
As Arkansas abruptly scheduled this execution binge, it touched off a flurry of state and federal legal challenges from the eight inmates, based on claims of untested DNA, mitigating mental illness or intellectual impairment and the propriety of the drug.
Various courts blocked four of the executions. However, inmate Ledell Lee, convicted in 1993 of killing a 26-year-old woman, was executed last week, after the Supreme Court declined to stay the execution so that he could obtain DNA testing. Two convicted murderers, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, also lost appeals and were executed Monday night, making Arkansas the first state since 2000 to carry out two death sentences on one day. Another convicted murderer, Kenneth Williams, was scheduled for execution Thursday.
And let it not be said that this is simply swift justice. No, only the end was rushed after these inmates’ decades of imprisonment.
The timeline instead laid bare two arbitrary and capricious reasons to take a life – the availability of a controversial execution drug and Arkansas’ desire to beat a deadline. When a life-and-death decision comes down to something so random, we all should be outraged.
The death penalty should be abolished.