Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the state of Arkansas intends to execute eight incarcerated people over a span of 10 days in April. The pace of Arkansas’ executions has been kicked into unprecedented (at least in recent U.S. history) high gear due to a looming expiration date for one of the state’s lethal injection drugs. Of the eight men slated for execution, all convicted of murders that occurred between 1989 and 1999, four are black and four are white.
On Saturday, the Times reported on a fresh logistical road-block to state-sanctioned murder: no one wants to watch it happen. Arkansas has a law that requires six to 12 “respectable citizens” (meaning they have no felony history or relation to the people being killed and are at least 21 years old) bear witness to an execution, ostensibly to ensure that protocol is followed.
According to local news reports, the Arkansas Department of Correction is now seeking volunteers to fill this role and has even desperately extended an invitation to a Little Rock Rotary Club, which members initially assumed was a joke. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, DOC Director Wendy Kelley told the members over the phone on Tuesday,”
“The last times these [executions] were set, we actually did not have enough people volunteer. 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.”
The Gazette interviewed several Rotary Club members, most of whom gave some version of the same response: that, regardless of whether they supported the death penalty, watching a person die horribly in front of them wasn’t really their thing, but they were sure someone else would be willing to do it. For instance, Rotarian Karen Fetter told the Gazette that not witnessing executions is, “just a personal preference for me. But there are others in our population who may be up for it.”
On Monday, the Gazette reports, attorneys for nine death row inmates, including the eight expected to receive the death penalty next month, filed a petition for rehearsing with the Supreme Court, their argument being that carrying out executions two-at-a-time over a ten day period is, “far outside the bounds of what contemporary society finds acceptable,” in part because it allows little time for reconsidering any individual person’s case.
Arkansas hasn’t executed a death row inmate since 2005, due to legal challenges and a failure to procure lethal injection drugs. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, no other state has carried out so many executions in such a short time frame in the United States since 1977.