Gov. Asa Hutchinson is hoping Arkansas will resume executing death row inmates before January, when one of the three drugs used in the state’s lethal injection mixture will expire.
On Tuesday the Arkansas Department of Correction announced the state had replenished supplies of a different drug, the paralytic vecuronium bromide, which expired last month.
Talking with reporters Wednesday, the Republican governor praised a recent state law that keeps suppliers of lethal injection drugs secret.
“The confidentiality law had the desired effect and increased the opportunity for that supply,” Hutchinson said. “The next step is to await the mandate from the Arkansas Supreme Court. Nothing can proceed until the mandate is issued on the pending cases. Once the mandate is issued the attorney general will take the next step to advise of any individuals who are subject to execution and request that dates be set. It’ll be my obligation under law to set the dates.”
Last month the Arkansas Supreme Court determined the state’s secrecy law was constitutional, but the ruling won’t go into effect until justices consider a petition by eight death row inmates to re-hear the case. The governor said he’ll be ready to act expediently if the re-hearing issue is resolved in the state’s favor.
“I certainly would expect to set dates before January, absolutely,” he said. “It’s been way too long and painful for the victims and their families. We would set the dates without any undue delay. As to how many requests are sent by the attorney general remains to be seen, as to whose dates will be set remains to be seen and the specific timeframes… but it is my job as chief executive to faithfully execute the laws.”
There are 34 Arkansans on death, all are male. 18 are black and 16 are white. A U.S. Census Bureau report from 2015 identified 15.7 percent of the state’s population as African-Americans. The demographic makes up 45 percent of those on death row. When asked, Governor Hutchinson said there is no evidence of racial biases at play in who receives the death penalty in Arkansas.
“That’s the kind of question that is resolved by constitutional challenges to convictions. In each of the instances that are before the court… the Supreme Court now, that has been affirmed and we’re waiting to mandate on… there has been no constitutional issue raised that has been found to have merit by the court and therefore it’s my duty to execute the law based on the Supreme Court’s review and affirmation of the convictions,” said Hutchinson.
The governor continued, “In terms of more broad criminal justice reform, it is a very legitimate point of evaluation to make sure our criminal justice system is working fairly and that we’re incarcerating the right people and that there’s not any racial bias in our system. I hope we continue to debate it and try to get it right and that we listen to each other when there are legitimate concerns to be raise.”
The state has not held an execution since 2005, largely due to legal challenges and drug supply issues.