The scandal in Arkansas

Arkansas is in the news because its governor, Asa Hutchinson, has scheduled eight executions by lethal injection during an 11 day period. The Washington Post says this pace is “unmatched in the modern era.” Arkansas hasn’t executed anyone in more than a decade, but wants to move quickly now because one of the drugs the state uses in lethal injections has an “expiration” date of this month.

The media is thus able to portray Hutchinson’s decision as having everything to do with logistical expediency and nothing to do with justice. The impression created is that Arkansas is in a rush to kill.

Some rush. Don W. Davis, the first inmate scheduled for execution, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1992 for murdering Jane Daniel. Davis entered her home to commit robbery. Daniel gave him all he demanded. Davis then shot her, execution style, in the back of the head.

In a properly functioning legal system, the sentence would have been carried out 20 years ago, or more. Davis himself says, “If the day I was found guilty in Bentonville and they would of took me out the next day and executed me, I feel as though it would have been a just execution.”

Unless one opposes the death sentence in all situations (a view I respect but don’t share), the real scandal is that Davis is still with us, not that Arkansas would like to execute him this month. And if one stands ideologically opposed to the death sentence, the quarrel is with Arkansas law, not with the governor’s quest to see the law carried out without further delay.

They say that justice delayed is justice denied. This certainly is true for the family of Ms. Daniel, whom Davis murdered 27 years ago.

And justice continues to be delayed. Davis was scheduled to die on Monday, but received some sort of stay. To my knowledge, the sentence still hasn’t been carried out.

There’s another scandal associated with the death penalty story. An Arkansas judge has been barred from ruling in death penalty cases after he attended two death penalty protests on Friday. The judge, Wendell Griffen, had blocked the use of one of the three drugs used in the state’s lethal injection protocol.

Participation in any protest relating to a pending matter would be grounds for removal from the case, and possibly for discipline. But Judge Griffen outdid himself. He dressed up as an inmate and was photographed laying on a cot attempting to enact the final moments of an injected inmate.

The saying “don’t quit your day job” does not apply here.

As scandalous as Judge Griffen’s behavior was, not publicly expressing his ideological opposition to the death penalty might have been worse. As Kent Scheidegger of Crime and Consequences says:

[I]t might be a good thing if all the dyed-in-the-wool anti-death-penalty judges in the country showed up at protests and got themselves booted off the cases. That would be better than dressing up their opposition in faux constitutional blather in judicial opinions.

Faux constitutional blather of the kind that is delaying the long-overdue execution of Don W. Davis and other death row inmates in Arkansas and elsewhere.

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