By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Arkansas on Monday scheduled eight executions for April, the U.S. state's first since 2005, despite lacking one of the three drugs needed to put the men to death.
Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson signed an order for the executions, which will take place in pairs from April 17 to 27.
“This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law, but it is also important to bring closure to the victims' families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time,” he said in a statement.
Arkansas lacks potassium chloride, one of the three drugs the state uses in lethal injections. The state's stock of a second drug, the anesthetic midazolam, also will exceed its expiration date in April.
It was not clear how Arkansas would get a new supply of potassium chloride in time for the executions. Pharmaceutical companies have been increasingly unwilling to sell drugs used in capital punishment, although Arkansas law grants vendors confidentiality.
Hutchinson acted after the U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected appeals from the eight inmates. They contended they were entitled to know the source of the drugs in order to avoid unnecessary pain during the executions.
Death penalty opponents contend that midazolam has failed to render inmates unconscious in at least four U.S. executions, prolonging the process and subjecting the condemned to extreme pain.
Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said he could not recall another example of so many executions over such a short period. Arkansas seemed to be trying to use its midazolam before it expired, he said.
The executions' rapid pace "creates an extraordinary risk that something is going to go wrong," Dunham said.
Scott Braden and John Williams, attorneys for three of the inmates, urged Hutchinson in a letter to reconsider. “Not only would our clients suffer, but so would our State’s image and moral standing in the eyes of the country and the world,” they wrote.
They also challenged an assertion by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge that all the inmates’ appeals had been exhausted, citing a case still pending in a state court.
(Editing by Ian Simpson in Washington and Jonathan Oatis)