(AP) — The Arkansas Department of Correction has bought the drugs needed to resume lethal injections, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he expects to be asked soon to schedule the state’s first execution in 10 years. Department of Correction spokeswoman Cathy Frye said the agency purchased the drugs last month and finalized new execution procedures August 6. Execution dates for eight men who have exhausted their appeals could come soon.
“I had a conversation with the attorney general yesterday and I expect, you know, in the coming week or so one or more requests for dates to be set,” Hutchinson said. “I couldn’t tell you which cases they are, but the indications are there’s one or more that’s in an appropriate setting to have a date set for execution.” A state law passed this year lets the Department of Correction buy the drugs secretly, similar to the practice in other states. Agency officials wouldn’t say whether they bought the drugs domestically or overseas, nor who verified their purity.
According to an invoice, in which the name of the supplier is blacked out, the department paid $24,226 for the three drugs needed for lethal injections, including the sedative midazolam. Midazolam was implicated after executions last year in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma went on longer than expected, with inmates gasping and groaning as they died. The U.S. Supreme Court in June approved continued use of the drug, rejecting a challenge from three Oklahoma inmates now set to die in September and October.
State Rep. Doug House, a North Little Rock Republican who sponsored and helped write the law shielding the drugs’ suppliers from the public, said Thursday that he was glad the state has found a source of midazolam. “The experience of the Department of Correction and their colleagues in other states is that drug manufacturers and suppliers will not provide the drugs if they know they are used in conjunction with executions,” House said.
Based on the state’s new protocol and the invoice, it appears Arkansas ordered enough of the drugs to handle eight executions. There are at least 16 doses of each, but the protocol requires that two complete sets of the chemicals be prepared for each execution. Arkansas will administer midazolam to knock the inmates out, then use vecuronium bromide as a paralytic and then potassium chloride to stop the heart. The paralytic Arkansas purchased expires next June.
The potassium chloride expires in January 2017, and the midazolam expires in April 2017. The Oklahoma inmates challenged the use of midazolam, saying it might not sedate them to the point they don’t feel pain when the other drugs stop their lungs and heart.
Arkansas has not put an inmate to death since 2005, when Eric Nance was executed for the killing of 18-year-old Julie Heath of Malvern, who he had picked up on the side of the road where her car had broken down.In the years since, proposed executions have been delayed by challenges to Arkansas’ execution procedures, drug shortages and the inmates’ standard appeals.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said the attorney general’s office has not set a timetable for scheduling execution dates. While there is a current lawsuit pending, Deere said no injunction is in place to keep the state from setting execution dates. Jeff Rosenzweig, a lawyer for several death row inmates, said the state promised under a 2013 court agreement to tell inmates where lethal drugs would be obtained.
“We need to determine if they are from a reputable manufacturer or a fly-by-night operation,” he said. There are currently 34 men on death row in Arkansas, including two inmates sentenced this year to die by lethal injection.