Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday (Aug. 13) that he expects to receive a request to set execution dates for one or more death row inmates from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge “within the coming week or so.”
Rutledge’s communications director, Judd Deere, said the Arkansas Department of Corrections has told the attorney general’s office that it has obtained the drugs and established a protocol to begin resuming lethal injections. Deere said eight of the state’s 34 death row inmates have exhausted their appeals, though he could not say when each individual death penalty date request will be made.
Hutchinson said he spoke to Rutledge Wednesday and expects the first request to arrive soon. “Once I get a request, we’ll set a date,” he said.
He did not have a timeline for how long it would take Arkansas to resume executions, which have been on hold since 2005 because of disputes over the drugs used in the process. On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a sedative used in Oklahoma executions did not violate the Constitution. At the time, Rutledge said, “The U.S. Supreme Court today has once again ruled that capital punishment by lethal injection is constitutional. Today’s decision is an important step toward ensuring that executions can be carried out and that justice is served.”
Drug vendors are allowed to be kept secret under a law passed by the Legislature this year. That law has been challenged by inmates. Deere said the attorney general’s office has asked for a motion to dismiss the case and requested a hearing date to be set before Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin. The date has not been set.
Hutchinson said it’s important for the process to move forward, and it all starts with setting the dates. He expects more legal delays, including over the new law.
“I understand that there will be additional challenges, but it’s important to have a date set because that keeps the process moving so that ultimately the law can be faithfully carried out,” he said.
He later added, “Unless the chief executive of the state sets dates, takes action, then the process will never move, and that’s my responsibility.”
In addition to setting the dates, the governor is the last public official who can stop an execution – a responsibility that vexed some previous Arkansas governors. Gov. Mike Beebe said he was glad he never had to carry out a sentence. Gov. Mike Huckabee expressed deep discomfort with it. As his time in office was ending, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller commuted the death penalty sentences of every man on death row, saying it was his Christian duty to do so. His successor, Gov. Dale Bumpers, expressed relief that Rockefeller had commuted the sentences.
Gov. Bill Clinton, in the midst of a heated Democrat primary campaign during the 1992 U.S. presidential race, was criticized for not stopping the execution of Rickey Ray Rector. After killing two people, Rector tried to shoot himself, but the result was that he was left with severe brain damage.
Hutchinson, a former director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. attorney, expressed no reservations about the responsibility.
“I’ve been in law enforcement a long time,” he said, “but I haven’t thought about that. … It’s a serious thing. My objectives in life in terms of these type of cases is that you’re sure that the system works, that innocence is protected, guilt is established, and the system works, and it is reviewed, and they have competent counsel, then it’s my responsibility to carry out the law. We’re not there yet, so … you just simply do your duty until you get to that moment and you address it then.”