Sue Ogrocki / AP

Arkansas attorney general asks governor to set execution dates

Executions of eight inmates would be the state’s first in 10 years; move comes as other states abandon death penalty

Arkansas' 10-year hiatus in capital punishment moved nearer to its end on Tuesday when state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge formally asked Governor Asa Hutchinson to set execution dates for eight inmates who have exhausted their appeals.

"These individuals were sentenced to death for the heinous crimes they committed. It is far past time that the sentences be carried out and justice served," Rutledge said in a statement.

"I urge the governor to move forward with setting execution dates as quickly as possible," she added.

Both Rutledge and Hutchinson are Republicans.

State law requires the attorney general to certify that appeals are at an end before execution dates can be set by the governor. 

Hutchinson received the letter and the next step will be to set the dates, the governor's office said.

The eight inmates, all convicted of capital murder and sentenced by juries to die, are among the 34 inmates, all men, on death row in Arkansas.

Arkansas is moving toward carrying out its first executions since 2005 even as other states move away from the practice and public support for the death penalty slips.

Nebraska in May became the first Republican-dominated U.S. state since 1973 to abolish capital punishment as legislators overrode the governor's veto of a bill repealing the death penalty. The issue is not settled, however, as death penalty supporters last week turned in almost 166,700 signatures from Nebraska voters who signed petitions calling for capital punishment to be reinstated and for the issue to be put to a public vote in November 2016, according to JournalStar.com in Lincoln, the state's capital.

Nineteen of the 50 U.S. states have abolished the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Arkansas is the only state in the South to have not carried out an execution in recent years. But in August, the Arkansas Department of Correction purchased enough of the three drugs used in the state's new execution protocol, which were received in early July, to perform the executions. A state law passed this year lets the department buy the drugs secretly, as in other states.

According to an invoice in which the name of the supplier is blacked out, the department paid $24,226 for the three drugs needed for lethal injections, including the sedative midazolam.

Midazolam was implicated after executions last year in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma went on longer than expected, with inmates gasping and groaning as they died.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June approved continued use of the drug, rejecting a challenge from three Oklahoma inmates now set to be put to death in September and October. Sister Helen Prejean, a prominent death penalty opponent, told Al Jazeera at the time that the court’s ruling neglected the fact that “there’s no empirical, scientific way for them to find a humane way of killing.”

“There’s no control group or anything like that,” Prejean said.

Eric Nance was the last inmate executed in Arkansas on Nov. 28, 2005 for the killing of 18-year-old Julie Heath of Malvern. There are currently 34 men listed on death row, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction.

Al Jazeera and wire services    

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