Arkansas Committee Looks for Ways to Administer Death Penalty

Jul 24, 2013

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel speaks to the joint meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Arkansas officials are considering what steps to take in the wake of comments by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel claiming Arkansas’ death penalty system is broken.

McDaniel told the joint Judiciary Committee the nationwide unavailability of the lethal injection drug, a lack of medical personnel willing to administer the dose, and a continuing stream of costly litigation has rendered the state unable to perform its duty.

Some lawmakers suggested other methods used elsewhere. McDaniel said those options carry many of the same problems as well as an additional burden of meeting what courts deem to be our evolving societal values.

"Of course we don't know for sure how the courts would view an execution by firing squad, or gas chamber, or by electric chair. But I think I have a pretty good guess. Although the specific factual issues in a challenge to execution by one of those alternative methods would be different the legal issues regarding claims of cruelty and the possibility of undue pain or mistake would be exactly the same as the claims raised in the lethal injection cases," said McDaniel.

Republican Senator Jeremy Hutchinson of Benton said challenges to carrying out the death penalty, especially the unavailability of the lethal drug, is not a reason to stop pursuing other options.

"This is on the books and as long as juries are rendering capital punishment we are obligated as legislators, and as the Attorney General, to do everything we can to see that it's carried out," said Hutchison.

McDaniel said he will continue working to uphold the law, but that the state has very few options and other states around the country are facing similar problems. McDaniel said paths forward could include the abolition of the death penalty, continuing litigation, and pressuring Congress to lift an FDA ban on imports of lethal barbiturates.