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With guest host Jane Clayson.
Arkansas says it will execute seven death row inmates by the end of the month. Why the rush? The lethal injection drugs are set to expire. We’ll look at the controversy.
Arkansas hasn’t executed an inmate since 2005, but that’s about to change. Seven men put to death over the next ten days. That’s two a day, every other day. Why? The drug used in lethal injections is set to expire. Lawyers for the condemned say the rush undermines due process. Victims’ families say they’ve waited long enough. This hour On Point, Arkansas multiple execution plan and its message for the nation.
Nathan Smith, deputy prosecuting attorney for the Benton County Prosecuting Attorney in Benton County, Arkansas.
The Divide Over Death Row in Arkansas
When news broke that Arkansas was set to execute seven death row inmates over the course of ten days this month, controversy over the death penalty quickly found its way back into the national conversation.
Today on our air, we took a deep dive into Arkansas' execution plan and what it means for capital punishment in this country. We thought it useful to highlight elements of the lively debate between two of our guests – Nathan Smith, a prosecuting attorney for Benton County, Arkansas, and Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Smith and Rust-Tierney couldn't be more split in their views of the death penalty. They each mounted salient, passionate appeals for and against Arkansas' disputed execution plan.
"The reason that the drugs are difficult to obtain, the reason that executions have to be carried out in the manner that they are, is largely due to the successful litigation by attorneys for these inmates," Smith explained to guest host Jane Clayson.
Smith was a sharp critic of those who defend or litigate on behalf of death row inmates, arguing that these appeals create more problems than solutions.
"The real issue is they simply want the abolition of the death penalty," Smith said. "They're not really concerned with the drug itself. Complaining about the drug is simply a way to attack the death penalty itself."
Smith also pointed out that these executions, which Arkansas plans to carry out twice per day, every other day, are the result of sentences handed down by juries, not prosecutors.
Rust-Tierney, however, contended that inmates are up against poor legal representation from the start, leading to inaccurate sentences. She questioned whether these death row inmates were fairly chosen as the most deserving of capital punishment.
"Part of the reason this has taken so long is because they never had the proper legal representation at the very beginning. So we're trying to play catchup," Rust-Tierney said. "So we do have people facing execution that should not be facing execution."
Along with her doubts on the legal process, Rust-Tierney also had concerns about the resources dedicated to capital punishment.
"We could be putting more resources into helping to heal people, "Rust-Tierney said. "We could be putting more resources into the root causes of crime. That's where we need to be moving forward, and the death penalty holds us back from that."
Smith, nonetheless, held steady to his defense of Arkansas' plan to carry out these executions.
"These men are on death row because juries put them there," he said.
National debate notwithstanding, Smith stood by his state's choices and actions.
"The experience in Arkansas is the people have the right to govern themselves," he said.
From The Reading List
Washington Post: With lethal injection drugs expiring, Arkansas plans unprecedented seven executions in 11 days — "Though the death penalty has been dormant in Arkansas — these would be the first executions there in 12 years — the lethal injections have put the state at the center of the debate about capital punishment as it becomes less common in the United States. Fewer states are putting condemned inmates to death, public support for executions is declining and authorities are struggling to find the drugs used in lethal injections amid a shortage spurred in part by drugmakers’ objections to the death penalty."
USA Today: Stop the execution madness in Arkansas — "In my home state of Arkansas, plans are underway for a spectacular legal train wreck starting next week. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed death warrants to execute eight men in 10 days, something not even Texas, with its vaunted assembly line, has ever attempted. Indeed, no death-happy state has ever dreamed of eight kills in such a short time."
The Marshall Project: My Execution, 20 Days Away — "When you’re issued a date, you want to be the first to break the news to your family. But often the press gets to them first. For the prisoner, as the fatal day approaches, the hardest part is knowing you’ve condemned your loved ones to a bitter fate. Once you depart, they have to carry on."
This program aired on April 13, 2017.