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Clemency, Secrecy Get Hearings, Rulings In Arkansas 8 Execution Plan

 A lawyer for Arkansas death row inmates scheduled for execution later this month is arguing the state's accelerated timeline is subverting the state's clemency hearing protocol, functionally eliminating a public input period for the condemned men.

Public defender Julie Vandiver made that argument today inside federal Judge D.P. Marshall Jr.'s courtroom in Little Rock.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Federal public defender Julie Vandiver at an anti-death penalty public discussion March 30.

  Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court today stayed a lower court's ruling that the Arkansas Department of Corrections must release information about the drugs expected to be used in the executions.

In the first case, Arkansas parole board chairman John Felts said under oath that he decided to shave the governor's time to review any clemency decisions after speaking to someone in Asa Hutchinson's office. Vandiver's suit argues this decision contravenes the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which grants due process for all Americans under established federal and state laws.

"Arkansas has an established clemency process. It has certain deadlines that are to be met. It has certain notice requirements that are to be met. And this is something that is enshrined in the Arkansas constitution as an important process."

The clemency process grants a 30-day lag before an execution for public feedback. It also grants inmates a two-hour hearing that the parole board has cut down to one hour.

"Ordering the state to move its execution dates by even a few days, let alone the 40-plus days they've actually requested, will make it impossible for the state to carry out [the sentences] for their horrific crimes," says Nick Bronni, deputy solicitor general for Arkansas.

And Vandiver says there's another 30-day requirement if the board recommends  clemency to gather public feedback.  She says that makes clemency impossible with the scheduled executions. 

Deputy Solicitor General Nick Bronni says the men are guilty and it's in the public interest to execute them before the state’s drug supply expires at the end of the month. Specifically, the state's lethal injection protocol calls for midazolam, or Versed, and the state's supply of the drug has a printed expiration of May, 2017.

"Ordering the state to move its execution dates by even a few days, let alone the 40-plus days they've actually requested, will make it impossible for the state to carry out [the sentences] for their horrific crimes." 

The hearing continues Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court today stayed Pulaski Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffin's decision Tuesday morning that would have forced the corrections department to release under the Freedom of Information Act information related to the drugs that will be used in the lethal injections. In particular, Little Rock lawyer Steven Shults wants to see package inserts from execution drugs. Those have been used in the past to identify execution drug manufacturers.

Arkansas law allows the department to keep confidential information such as who manufactured and supplied the state with the necessary drugs, but Griffin had ordered information related to the  last of the drugs in the so-called three-drug cocktail, potassium chloride, released to Shults.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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