Political News

Arkansas governor sets execution after state gets new drug

Posted August 25

— Arkansas' governor on Friday set a November execution date for a convicted killer, marking the first scheduled date since the state put four men to death in April.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a proclamation scheduling the Nov. 9 execution for Jack Greene, who was convicted of killing Sidney Jethro Burnett in 1991 after Burnett and his wife accused Greene of arson.

Arkansas executed four prisoners in April but had intended to put eight men to death. The state scheduled the executions to occur before its supply of midazolam expired. The sedative is used in the state's three-drug lethal injection process.

The state announced last week it had obtained a new supply of the drug after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked Hutchinson to set Greene's execution. The state paid $250 in cash for enough midazolam to conduct two executions, according to Department of Correction records.

The drug supply expires in January 2019. A state law keeps the source of the state's execution drugs secret.

Greene was not among the four inmates who had been set for execution but then spared by court rulings. Three of those inmates have appeals pending, while Hutchinson is still weighing the Arkansas Parole Board's recommendation that he grant clemency to a fourth prisoner.

Greene's attorneys argue that the convicted killer is severely mentally ill, saying he suffers from a fixed delusion that prison officials are conspiring with his attorneys to cover up injuries he believes corrections officers have inflicted on him. The delusions cause Greene to constantly twist his body and stuff his ear and nose with toilet paper to cope with the pain, his attorneys said.

"In the coming weeks, it's imperative that the appropriate decision makers consider whether the state should execute a man in such a feeble mental state," Scott Braden, an assistant federal defender, said in a statement.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of someone who cannot rationally comprehend his execution. Two-and-a-half decades of solitary confinement — piled on top of Mr. Greene's existing mental fragility — call the legality of Mr. Greene's execution into serious doubt," Braden said.

Rutledge said Greene has exhausted his appeals and there's no stay of execution in place. The governor did not comment beyond setting the execution date.

Prosecutors said Greene beat Burnett with a can of hominy before stabbing him and slitting his throat.

Greene had three trials. Death sentences in his first two were overturned because prosecutors improperly used a separate court case as an aggravating circumstance.

At the sentencing phase in his third trial, the court wouldn't let Greene show jurors a letter he had received from Burnett's widow, forgiving him. The court said it didn't reflect on Greene's character and couldn't count as a mitigating factor.

The executions in April were Arkansas' first since 2005, and its first using midazolam. Death penalty opponents say the drug is incapable of inducing unconsciousness or preventing serious pain.

The sedative has been used in several problematic executions. Kenneth Williams, one of the inmates Arkansas put to death in April using the drug, lurched and convulsed 20 times during his execution.

Hutchinson rejected calls for an outside investigation of the executions after Williams was put to death.

Cases are pending before the state Supreme Court and a lower court over a medical supply company's efforts to prevent another drug from being used to put inmates to death. McKesson Medical-Surgical has argued the state purchased its supply of vecuronium bromide from the company under false pretenses.

The state's supply of vecuronium bromide expires in March 2018. Its supply of another drug used in its lethal injection process, potassium chloride, expires at the end of August 2018.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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