Governor Hutchinson Confident Arkansas Executions Should Proceed

Apr 13, 2017

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking about the pending executions with reporters Thursday at the Governor's Mansion.
Credit Karen Tricot Steward / Arkansas Public Media

Governor Asa Hutchinson spoke to the media for an hour Thursday, saying he has visited with officials at the Arkansas Department of Correction and now has great confidence that the seven executions set for this month will be carried out successfully.

"I reviewed the protocols, procedures and training. But, obviously there's contingency plans. That's why we have communication directly from the chambers there to my office," said Hutchinson.

Seven Arkansas inmates are scheduled to be executed over 11 days this month, starting Monday.

The governor acknowledged he has been declining interviews with the media, saying the press conference Thursday was an attempt at transparency.

He said he's been very engaged in the past few weeks reviewing information from states that have had botched executions with the drug to be used in Arkansas's lethal injection process. That drug is a sedative used in minor surgical procedures, called midazolam or Versed. Hutchinson said he felt confident that the drug was suitable.

The Hurried Timetable: "I've Been Assured It's Okay"

When asked about the unprecedented timetable for executing so many inmates over such a short period of time, the governor defended his choice.

"I could follow the pattern of what governor Huckabee did and set three a night. I could spread it out over four months or five months or six months. But you think about that. If I would have chosen to spread it out over four months or six months, would that have made any difference to the death penalty opponents who are coming in here and protesting this?... I don't think so," said Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said after consulting with prison officials he felt comfortable with conducting two executions per night but not three.

The Controversial Drug: "Not Up For Debate"

The governor said he had read the report that resulted from an investigation into the botched midazolam execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma in 2014. He said it was an opportunity to learn from Oklahoma's problems. The governor then noted using a drug that is not midazolam for lethal injections isn't even up for debate.

"The courts have approved this 3-drug protocol that has been set by the legislature, and it was set by the legislature because death penalty opponents said, 'We don't want you to have discretion on how you [carry out executions]'," noted Hutchinson.

The Stress: "Short Timetable Not A Factor"

The governor said having the seven executions in the two weeks to come is actually less stressful on prison staff than spreading the executions out over a longer period of time.

"They recognize while it's a stressful time, there's so much time that goes into preparation that if you spread it out over four months you're going to have four months of stress. So this is a time that you can be focused. It's a time when you can do your responsibilities and be prepared but have adequate time in between," he said.

In Oklahoma after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, an investigation revealed ample testimony from prison officials involved that there was too much stress and they felt rushed to carry out the double execution. Clayton Lockett was the first of the two scheduled to be executed that night in 2014. The second execution was canceled.

As a result, Oklahoma no longer allows double executions. Arkansas's executions will involve three double executions.

The governor said after reading the findings of the Oklahoma report, he was not concerned that the same would happen in Arkansas.

"I don't think that is applicable to Arkansas," said Hutchinson.

Preparing For The Executions: "There Is Adequate Training"

The governor would not talk about the specifics of the training that those involved in the execution process are currently undergoing or whether the same personnel would be involved in all seven killings.

A spokesperson from the Arkansas Department of Correction, Soloman Graves, said in a written statement to Arkansas Public Media, "The ADC is confident that the assigned personnel have the adequate training to follow the protocol as designed."

The Future Of Lethal Injection: "Cries Out For Solution"

While facing a number of issues surrounding lethal injection as a execution method, some states like Mississippi are creating back-up plans of alternative methods. These methods include using a gas chamber, an electric chair or a firing squad to carry out executions.

"It's a problem that many states face and it cries out for a solution. I think the future in terms of drug supply is unknown," said Hutchinson.

The governor went on to say that he cautions making changes to lethal injection as the method of execution because a new method would lead to many lawsuits that would be tied up in courts for years.

What About The Victims?

The governor added that he has been meeting with the victims' families. Hutchinson went into detail about the gruesome nature of the crimes of the inmates and talked about the need for closure for the victims' families.

"There's a natural focus on those who are subject to the death penalty. That I understand. But at the same time, there is insufficient attention that is paid to the victims and the families in these cases," said Hutchinson.

The governor became emotional while discussing the case of Jack Jones, who received the death penalty in 1996 for the murder of a 34-year-old mother. The mother was with her 11-year-old daughter at the store where she worked when Jones robbed the store and took the mother and daughter into the break room.

Hutchinson went on to describe the crime, "The 11-year-old begged Jones not to hurt her mother. He said 'I won't. I'm going to hurt you.' He beat the girl and left her for dead. She survived but her mom had been raped and murdered by blunt force and strangulation."

Upcoming U.S. Supreme Court Case

Attorneys for the two death row inmates who are scheduled to be executed on Monday, Bruce Ward and Don Davis, have asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to stop their executions until the nation's high court takes up a case concerning access to independent mental health experts for defendants.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hold oral arguments in that case April 24, a week after the two are set to be put to death. The issue before the U.S. Supreme Court stems from an Alabama case on whether an indigent defendant had adequate access to experts to develop a defense based on mental health.

Attorneys for the inmates say it is not adequate for both the defense and prosecution to have the same expert making a case for competency.

Lawyers for the two Arkansas men set to be executed note it is wrong to execute them so close to a decision in the Alabama case.

“Whenever you look at the Supreme Court decision, if they provide different guidance in the future we'll look at it. But I don't see how that would impact these cases,” said Hutchinson.