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 Monday evening.
The death penalty is arbitrary. It is unfair. And it should have no place in the American justice system.
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, will expire 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.
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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, the propriety of the drug, and even a suit from a drug company that another drug used in a lethal cocktail was never intended as an execution 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 murders, 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.
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.
Due process is a critical part of our justice system, and we must all be watchful when it is encroached upon. We simply cannot leave open the possibility of getting it wrong in a capital case; there is no undoing an execution. Rushing the process makes that more possible.
It shouldn’t matter whether you favor or oppose the death penalty. This rush was uncalled for and is yet another reason that the death penalty should be abolished.