On April 17, Arkansas is scheduled to execute seven men over a period of 11 days. If carried out, that will be the most executions performed in such a short time since the modern death-penalty era began in 1976. In an analysis, the Washington Post suggests that at least one of the executions will be botched. The executions are being tightly bundled because Arkansas’ supply of the controversial drug it is using for executions, midazolam, is set to expire April 30. Midazolam is medically used as an anti-anxiety sedative, not an anesthetic. Experts have concerns about the drug’s ability to render a person fully unconscious, heightening the risk of an unconstitutionally cruel punishment.
The lawyers defending the men scheduled for death are arguing that the short time will limit their ability to provide effective counsel and that the execution team will be so stressed that they will probably make mistakes. The use of Midazolam has resulted in a number of botched attempts, in which the prisoner visibly and audibly struggled. These include the 2014 executions of Dennis McGuire in Ohio and Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, Charles Warner in Oklahoma in 2015, and Ronald Smith Jr. in Alabama last year. These are not anomalies. In a 2014 book, Austin Sarat documented 75 cases of botched execution by injection. He found that with each innovation in the death penalty, there is an increase in the rate of errors.