LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — One of the three drugs Arkansas uses in its death chamber expires Thursday, and unless the state can find a new supply it won’t be able to execute three men with 11th-hour appeals pending at the state Supreme Court.
Arkansas wanted to execute eight men over 11 days last year, before 160 vials of a sedative expired. Ultimately, Arkansas put four men to death over eight days last April.
The state’s supply of vecuronium bromide, held in 75 vials, expires Thursday. While Arkansas officials have previously told courts they do not have a steady drug provider, in recent months they have not answered the question — including Wednesday when the Department of Correction and the governor’s office were asked about their level of confidence that new drugs could be found.
“I appreciate your questions, but there’s nothing pending at this time — any comment from our office would be premature,” said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Prison department spokesman Solomon Graves wrote in an email: “We will continue our practice of publicly disclosing when we obtain a supply of an execution drug,” adding that the department is committed to carrying out the death sentences.
Arkansas uses midazolam to sedate inmates before injecting them with vecuronium bromide, which stops their lungs, and potassium chloride, which stops their hearts. At normal doses, all three drugs are surgery standards, and their manufacturers have said for years that they want their products used to save lives, not end them.
While Arkansas was forced under a court order last year to release package labels for the drugs used in executions, it would not say who provided them. Each of the manufacturers said they did not sell material to the state and that they have given instructions to middlemen to not sell to states that intend to use the drugs in death chambers.
AmerisourceBergen, an intermediary between drug manufacturers and pharmacies, told The Associated Press last year that it was looking into whether a pharmacy it served had improperly sold drugs to the state. Wednesday, company spokesman Gabe Weissman said the company doesn’t know how Arkansas intends to obtain more drugs — but that it won’t be through it.
Arkansas currently has three inmates in the final stages of their appeals, and two could see their cases decided as early as Thursday. Lawyers for Bruce Ward and Don Davis argued before the state Supreme Court in January that the men, who had been set for a double-execution last April, never received mandated mental health aid before and during their trials.
State lawyers say the men never met the minimum standard required for the mandatory assistance and were “sandbagging” the court to delay their executions.
The third inmate, Jack Greene, says Arkansas Correction Director Wendy Kelley cannot properly serve as his “arbiter of sanity” because her boss, Hutchinson, sets execution dates. State lawyers call her a “neutral state officer.” Written arguments from the state in Greene’s case are due to the Arkansas Supreme Court by March 23.
The state’s potassium chloride supply expires Aug. 31 and its midazolam is good through Jan. 31, 2019.
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