Arkansas Attorney General Says Death Penalty is Broken, Urges Change

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel stated last week that he believes “our death penalty system, as it currently exists, is completely broken.” Speaking at the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association summer convention, he said “I don’t think we are telling jurors the truth when we lead them to believe that they are sentencing someone to death when we really don’t have a viable system with which to execute someone.”

McDaniel, who supports the death penalty, said that the system has changed even since he took office in 2007. Arkansas’ most recent execution was in 2005, and while seven of the state’s 38 death row inmates have exhausted their appeals, none of them have execution dates set. The Attorney General laid out two reasons for the delay in the state’s use of capital punishment. The first is that the civil litigations brought against the state on aspects of the execution process have become very lengthy, further tying up the process even beyond appeals. Secondly, he states that “the drugs needed for lethal injection are simply not available for purchase by state prisons anymore,” as most of these drugs come from manufacturers in Europe, which has no death penalty, who don’t want the drugs used for executions. Some states still have stockpiles of the drugs but will no longer sell them to other states because of their limited access. Arkansas also faces the growing national problem of finding physicians to administer the drugs, as they are concerned about the ethics of the situation and about keeping their identities secret. Just yesterday a stay of execution was issued for Warren Hill in Georgia over issues of the lethal injection procedure.

McDaniel doesn’t believe that the courts would approve the use of an alternative method such as the electric chair, gas chamber, or firing squad, or that the majority of Arkansans would support those methods.

Looking forward, McDaniel pointed to the legislature and Arkansas’ Supreme Court as legitimate means for abolition stating, “It’s time for the policy makers of Arkansas to say, ‘Do we continue with a broken system and throwing money and resources at essentially pointless litigation, or do we modify the system?’ And there’s only really two modifications that I see available — it’s either abolish the death penalty or change the method of execution.”

While McDaniel is concerned about the system because of the difficulty in carrying out death sentences and not for issues of morality or unjust application, he recognizes the terrible consequences of the drawn out system on victim’s families. His remarks support a trend of leaders, including conservatives, concerned that the death penalty is beyond repair and leads to a waste of resources and less efficient state governments.

(Photo courtesy of Texarkana Gazette)

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