Death Penalty

7 executions in 11 days wouldn't allow due process, ABA president tells Arkansas governor

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Linda Klein

File photo of Linda Klein by Mitch Higgins / ABA Media Relations.

ABA President Linda Klein has asked the governor of Arkansas to delay an unprecedentedly accelerated series of executions scheduled for this month.

The state has not executed a single person in 12 years, but it plans to execute seven men over an 11-day period beginning April 17, the Washington Post reports. An eighth man, Jason McGehee, was also scheduled to die in these 11 days, but a judge has delayed that execution, the Post reported in an earlier story.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said that he ordered the executions to be scheduled in such a short time span because the state’s stock of lethal injection drugs is set to expire. “It is uncertain as to whether another drug can be obtained, and the families of the victims do not need to live with continued uncertainty after decades of review,” he said in a statement to the Post.

“We are troubled that this current execution schedule … prioritizes expediency above due process,” Klein said in her letter (PDF) to the governor. “Because neither Arkansas decision-makers nor defense counsel currently have adequate time to ensure that these executions are carried out with due process of law, we simply ask that you modify the current execution schedule to allow for adequate time between executions.”

Klein says in her letter that the short notice for the condemned men has overwhelmed their legal defense teams. The work that is done in the run-up to an execution “can easily consume all of the available time and resources of an attorney representing just one client with an approaching execution date; here, several of the men facing execution are represented by the same attorneys,” Klein wrote. “It simply is not possible for an attorney to do all that is minimally required for multiple clients scheduled for execution only days apart. Under such extraordinary constraints, any time and resources spent on behalf of one client facing death will necessarily be at the expense of another. This conflict of interest is simply untenable in matters of life and death.”

The ABA holds no position about the death penalty in general, Klein says, but “sufficient procedural safeguards to decrease the risks of injustice” should be present. She urged the governor to delay the executions so that these safeguards could be adhered to.

“Regardless of whether these men are put to death this month or on a more measured schedule, the state will need either to locate new drugs or to develop an alternative execution protocol for the remaining men on Arkansas’ death row,” Klein concluded. “Given that these policy decisions will need to be made soon, expediency need not, and should not, be placed above the Constitution’s due process protections.”

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas began hearing arguments Monday to determine whether the state should be allowed to proceed, in the first of four scheduled days for arguments, the Associated Press and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report. The next stop for either side to appeal her ruling would be the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and then the U.S. Supreme Court.

The previous record for the number of executions in an 11-day period was set by Texas, which executed six men in at 10-day span in both 1997 and 2000, the Post reports.

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