The American Bar Association urged Arkansas this week to back away from its unprecedented plan to put seven men to death over 10 days starting next week, with the group saying it was worried the timeline could undermine due process for the inmates facing lethal injection.
ABA President Linda Klein asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson to give more time between the executions, which are set to begin on April 17. Hutchinson scheduled the executions to take place before the state's supply of midazolam, a controversial sedative used in lethal injections, expires.
"We are troubled that this current execution schedule appears not to allow for these necessary safeguards and prioritizes expediency above due process," Klein wrote in a letter to the governor. "Because neither Arkansas decision-makers nor defense counsel currently have adequate time to ensure that these executions are carried out with due process of law, we simply ask that you modify the current execution schedule to allow for adequate time between executions."
Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and drug shortages. If carried out, the timeline would be the most inmates a state has executed in that short of a time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Hutchinson criticized the ABA as "one of the biggest promoters of endless litigation," and noted that families of the inmates' victims have waited decades to see the death sentences carried out.
"The families of the victims have not only had to live with the loss of their loved ones through brutal murders, but they've also had to live with the unending review of these cases year after year after year," the Republican governor said in a statement. "Now to suggest, after all of the court reviews have been completed, that they ought to be delayed once again shows an incredible amount of insensitivity to the victims and their families who continue to suffer because of these heinous crimes."
Klein's letter comes as a federal judge is holding a hearing this week over an effort by the inmates to block the executions. The inmates' complaint cites concerns about the accelerated timetable as well as the use of midazolam, which has been used in flawed executions in other states.
Klein's letter said the ABA doesn't have a position on the death penalty itself and cited concerns about the time pressures the schedule would put on attorneys representing the inmates.
Also Tuesday, a federal judge denied inmate Jack Harold Jones Jr.'s request to have his April 24 execution blocked. A day earlier, the state Parole Board recommended Hutchinson reject Jones' bid for clemency.