LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Arkansas' attorney general asked Gov. Mike Beebe to set execution dates for seven death row inmates, according to letters obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel noted in the letters sent to Beebe late Thursday that six of the seven inmates are challenging the state's new lethal injection law and protocol, which calls for Arkansas to use a drug that has never before been used for lethal injections in the U.S.
However, McDaniel said there aren't any court orders in place preventing executions of those seven prisoners.
The Arkansas Supreme Court said earlier this year that such orders were dissolved when the justices struck down the state's lethal injection law in 2012. The court ruled that, in the old law, state legislators had ceded too much control over execution procedures to the Department of Correction.
So, legislators this year enacted a new law that says the state must use a lethal dose of a barbiturate. However, the new law leaves it up to the Department of Correction to pick the drug.
The AP reported last month that the state plans to use phenobarbital, which is used to treat seizures, in lethal injections from now on.
Arkansas hasn't put a prisoner to death since 2005, and for now, the state doesn't have any pending executions. That's expected to change, though it's not clear when.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Friday that the governor will set execution dates, despite his misgivings about the death penalty. Beebe, a Democrat, said earlier this year that he would sign legislation abolishing capital punishment if lawmakers would send him such a bill. State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, proposed just that, but the measure never made it to the governor's desk.
"Despite anyone's personal feelings about the death penalty itself, it's a very unique and different situation to be the person that has to sign that final warrant," DeCample said Friday. "That's what (Beebe's) facing doing now again and he will do it, but it is not by any means a pleasant experience."
McDaniel's letters request execution dates for seven of the state's 37 death row inmates: Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jack Jones, Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Kenneth Williams and Marcel Williams.
Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig filed a lawsuit last week in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of those inmates, except Davis. Rosenzweig filed paperwork with the court Friday asking to add Davis and two other death row inmates to the suit, which contends that the new lethal injection law is unconstitutional.
Rosenzweig also said he hopes the governor doesn't set execution dates.
"But if he does, then we will go to court," Rosenzweig said.
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