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The long, highly technical and confusing trial now in U.S. Federal Court challenging Arkansas' lethal-injection processes drags on into a third week.

The lawsuit brought by the 18 death row inmates against the state has, perhaps more than ever, brought to light just how complex it is to "kill the killers" in today's legal climate.

All of the 18 death row inmates bringing the suit have been convicted by a jury for murder -- some capital murder of another human being.

All have been sentenced to die by lethal injection as prescribed by Arkansas law -- but within the confines of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which is the right to be "free from cruel or unusual punishment," when imprisoned under state or federal care.

The lawsuit and trial are over the past use of one of the three drugs in the cocktail used by the state in past executions. That drug is midazolam, a sedative, and often the first of three drugs administered by the state during execution.

While the inmates, in their lawsuit, contend that midazolam is not strong enough or sufficient to protect them from experiencing pain from the second injection of a drug called vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, and lethal portion of the three-drug cocktail, potassium chloride, which stops the heart, may also be felt as pain.

Arkansas has used midazolam in the past. Eye-witness testimony from members of the Arkansas Media Pool, who were present at state-run executions and report those results, may have revealed details of the inmates lurching and thrashing about while strapped down to the gurneys and administered the cocktail of lethal drugs.

It should be noted that, unlike the state of Oklahoma that had at least two very long and tortuous lethal injection deaths within the last couple of years, none of these executions at Arkansas have been reported as "botched" or the processes re-started after the proceedings began.

I have written before about the difficulties the State of Arkansas has with masking the names of the drugs and their manufacturers from the public. Some changes in state law, our state's Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, say will now eliminate that detail.

But our state, like many others, has problems in procuring enough of these drugs to carry out the state-mandated executions in a timely manner. Most of the manufacturers of these three drugs forming the cocktail given by the state of Arkansas, do not want their company names associated with the word "execution."

The state's side, in a nutshell, says Arkansas' three-drug cocktail does not cause the harms alleged by the inmates in violations of the Eighth Amendment.

This topic was whispered during the recent Legislative session, yet only minimal attention was considered. Remember, almost six months before the last election, the Arkansas Department of Corrections, along with Attorney General Rutledge and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, tried to fast-track eight inmate executions within three weeks.

A flurry of appeals and delays led to only four of these eight inmates being executed.

Since the reelection of Hutchinson and Rutledge, little has been said about "killing the killers."

This lawsuit, filed long before the most recent campaign, has slowly dragged through the federal courts.

There will always be those who oppose capital punishment in any form. There will always be those who embrace capital punishment as the state's right and a legal solution to the crime of murder. There will always be questions as to the selection of drugs given.

Do these drugs really allow the inmate, who often so violently took another life, to just drift off to sleep when dying?

This lawsuit, or the next one filed, will not answer the questions on just how does the State of Arkansas "kill the killers."

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at maylontrice@yahoo.com. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 05/01/2019

Print Headline: Preparing the poison: has state become flummoxed on 'killing the killers'

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