The state of Arkansas has an unprecedented eight executions by lethal injection scheduled over a 10-day period coming up in April, which has reportedly left the state prison scrambling for volunteer witnesses. Citizen witnesses are required to be present at executions to make sure that they are carried out according to law.
On Tuesday, Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley encouraged Rotary Club members to volunteer. “The last times these were set, we actually did not have enough people volunteer,” Kelley told members of the Little Rock Rotary Club 99. “You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21. So if you’re interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office.”
Finding volunteers among members of the group may be difficult, though, according to Bill Booker, acting president of the club. “What I suspect is that some people might support the death penalty, but when it comes to witnessing something like that, it’s a different story,” Booker said Tuesday. “It may cause emotional trauma for quite a while. It would be one of the most significant things you’ll ever see in your life.”
Booker, himself a funeral director at Roller Funeral Home in Little Rock, said that even he will not volunteer for the task, as he thinks it would be “too much for him.”
A volunteer must be at least 21 years old, an Arkansas resident, have no felony criminal history and have no connection to the inmate or to the victim. The state’s death-penalty law requires that the prison director procure no fewer than six and no more than 12 citizen witnesses for each execution. Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to contact Wendy Kelley in writing at P.O. Box 8707, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 71611.
Arkansas has not put an inmate to death for 12 years, and now the eight executions in a row are scheduled beginning April 17 and ending on April 27. The speed of the upcoming executions has reportedly been prompted by the fact that midazolam, one of the three lethal-injection drugs, will expire at the end of April.
Midazolam has a troubled history, and is the reason why Arkansas has not executed anyone since 2005. You’ll likely recognize the drug if you’ve been following the Richard Glossip case in Oklahoma or the controversial 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in Glossip V. Gross that lethal injection using midazolam does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Watch the two-night event Killing Richard Glossip on Investigation Discovery on Monday, April 17, and Tuesday, April 18, at 9/8c.
If the eight executions are carried out as scheduled, Arkansas will be the first state to execute that many inmates in that short of a time frame since 1976, the year the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.
Arkansas has executed 27 inmates since 1976.
Main photo: Gurney at San Quentin prison used for executions by lethal injection [Wikimedia Commons]