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Religious Tolerance logo

2017-APR: The state of Arkansas
planned mass execution of eight
inmates on death row with
limited success.

Part 1

Arkansas death chamber

Execution facilities in Arkansas

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Review of the death penalty In the United States; how it is done:

The options used by various states have included hanging, electrocution in the electric chair, releasing poison gas in an enclosed chamber, firing squad, and lethal injections.

Of these five options, lethal injections are, by far, the most common technique used today. Inmates are made immobile by strapping them to a table similar to one shown above. Three drugs usually are then injected in sequence. 1

  • The first is usually Midazolam or Sodium Thiopental which is intended to make the victim lose consciousness. This is an important step because subsequent drugs can be extremely painful if the inmate retains any degree of consciousness when the two are injected. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids governments from inflicting "cruel and unusual punishment" on people. There have been a number of inmates in various states who were clearly writhing in pain during their executions in spite of the previous injection of Midazolam that was intended to render them unconscious. An article in The Lancet medical magazine discussed a 2005 study of 49 executed prisoners and found that 21 indicated levels of anesthesis consistent with consciousness just before they died. 1

  • The second injection is Vecuronium Bromide or Pancuronium Bromide. It paralyzes the victim and stops their breathing.

  • The third is Potassium Chloride which stops the victim's heart and causes almost immediate brain death.

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During the early 2010's, a number of executions were conducted in various states where Midazolam had apparently only sedated the victim and had not rendered them fully unconsicious. at Live Science said in mid-2015 that:

"... Midazolam was involved in several botched executions last year, including the case of Clayton Lockett from Oklahoma, who lived for about 45 minutes after he was administered drugs for lethal injection, and was seen convulsing and writhing before [finally] dying of a heart attack. ..." 2

Some inmates on state death rows launched a lawsuit to prohibit the use of Midazolm during executions in favor of a more effective replacement drug. The case worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where expert witness Dr. David Lubarsky, testified that Midazolam would not reliably maintain the victim unconsciousness when they were later injected with the two other drugs. This is because the later drugs generate extreme pain and may override the effects of the first injection and keep the victim at least partly conscious.

Still, the High Court ruled on 2015-JUN-29, in one of their common 5 to 4 split decisions between conservative and liberal Justices, that states could continue to use the drug for executions in spite of the risk of botched executions continuing in the future.

Rettner wrote:

"In the decision made today, five justices on the court sided with Evans, agreeing that a 500-milligram dose of the drug would work. But the other four justices disagreed, writing in their dissent:

'In reaching ... [their] conclusion, the [majority of five Justices on the] Court sweeps aside substantial evidence showing that, while midazolam may be able to induce unconsciousness, it cannot be utilized to maintain unconsciousness in the face of agonizing stimuli'." 2

By early 2017, the State of Arkansas had not executed anyone in almost 12 years. However, they planned to execute eight inmates over an eleven day interval in late April. Their supply of Vecuronium Bromide would no longer be effective on 2017-MAY-01. So, they planned to execute many inmates in quick succession while the drug was still near its full effectiveness.

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Support for the death penalty in Arkansas and the rest of the U.S.:

A majority of 56% adults in the U.S. support the death penalty as of mid-2015. However, support has been declining in the U.S. over the past two decades. According to a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center 2 in late 2015-MAR:

Political party % Support in 1996 % Support in 2015 Drop in percentage points

There have been many similar instances in the past where the U.S. public have gradually changed their opinion over human rights matters -- always in a pro-equality/pro-human rights direction. Two recent changes were involved interracial marriage during the late 20th century, and same sex or gay marriage during the early 21st century.

At the current rate of decline of support for the death penalty among Republicans, it would take until the 2060's before a majority of them will support an end to executions.

A state-wide public opinion poll by Talk Business & Politics (at and Hendrix College (at found that a significant majority of the Arkansas public support the death penalty. When they were asked:

"Do you support the death penalty, or should the state of Arkansas make life without parole the maximum prison sentence for capital offenses?

Results were:

  • 61 favored the death penalty.

  • 29% favored life without parole,

  • 10% didn't know or refused to answer.
When asked:

"Arkansas currently utilizes lethal injection as the method for carrying out executions. Do you favor the continued use of lethal injection or should the state explore alternative methods for carrying out state executions, such as the electric chair, firing squads, or public hangings?

Results were;

  • 41% preferred lethal injections,

  • 27% said to explore alternatives. Of these, 38% suggested public hangings, 34% firing squads, and 28% the electric chair.

  • 18% were opposed to the death penalty.

The margin of error on this state poll was ±4.2%. 3

This topic is continued in the next essay.

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Related essays on this web site that you might find interesting:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Execution Science: What's the Best Way to Kill a Person?," Live Science, 2010-OCT-01, at:
  2. "How Does Execution Drug Midazolam Work?" Live Science, 2015-JUN-29, at:
  3. Roby Brock, "Poll: Support For Death Penalty Strong In Arkansas," KUAR-FM, 2017-ARR-10, at:

How you may have arrived here:

Copyright © 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted on: 2017-APR-23
B.A. Robinson
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