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Catholic bishops welcome stays of execution for six condemned men in Arkansas

18 April 2017 | by Catholic News Service

Both federal and state judges block state executions pushed forward to beat 'use by' date of lethal injection drug

Catholic leaders praised the federal and state rulings that granted stays of executions for a group of Arkansas death-row inmates during the week of April 17.

"After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light," Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network against the Death Penalty, said in an April 16 statement. She said the plan to execute these men in such a short period of time brought about "an extraordinary response from so many people calling for a culture of life and an end to this practice of retribution."

Last week, the US Bishops' Conference's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development pleaded with the Governor of Arkansas to reconsider his plans to execute seven men in the next 11 days to use up the state's last batch of the controversial drug Midazolam because it is due to expire at the end of the month.

 

A federal judge' ruled on 15 April ruling stopped the state from executing six of the inmates with a preliminary injunction handed down in response to a lawsuit filed by the inmates, who claimed the executions were unconstitutional because of their rapid pace and also the ineffectiveness of the anaesthetic Midazolam. They claimed the sedative drug doesn't always work and causes those who are being executed to feel pain from the use of the other two lethal injection drugs.

The previous day, an Arkansas judge, responding to a lawsuit from two pharmaceutical companies, issued a temporary restraining order on the state's executions based on evidence the state may not have obtained Midazolam properly.

The state and federal judges' rulings are both under appeal by the state. A significant delay in these arguments could indefinitely halt these executions since the state's supply of Midazolam will run out at the end of the month and state officials have said they have no source to obtain a further supply of the sedative.

But even with the court-issued stays, the executions are still possible before the end of April if the cases are sent to the Supreme Court and it sides with the state of Arkansas in its appeal. Arkansas officials originally scheduled eight executions from 17-27 April. Two of the inmates were granted stays of execution outside of the federal judge's 15 April decision. These executions were announced months ago by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said they had to be done in quick succession to use the state's final batch of the Midazolam before it expired at the end of April.

Many people have demonstrated against the state's plan to execute these man in such quick succession, including the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In a statement on 13 April, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged the state's governor to reconsider the scheduled executions and reduce the sentences to life imprisonment.

"May those in Arkansas who hold the lives of these individuals on death row in their hands be moved by God's love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the current plans for execution," he wrote.

The bishop said the timing for these executions "was not set by the demands of justice, but by the arbitrary politics of punishment," referring to the state's supply of the sedative used in executions. "And so, in a dark irony, a safeguard that was intended to protect people is now being used as a reason to hasten their deaths."

After the rulings temporarily halting the executions were issued, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, thanked all of those who had "prayed and worked so hard to prevent these scheduled executions from taking place."

"Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country," he said in a statement. He also urged for prayers for "healing for the victims of the horrific crimes" and for the perpetrators of these crimes, saying: "The Lord never gives up on anyone and neither should we."

PICTURE - Akansas Governor Asa Hutchinson set the record number of executions to beat the use by date of the state's supply of the anaesthetic Midazolam



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