Four months after Arkansas raced against the clock to execute four men before its supply of a lethal injection drug expired, the state bought a new supply from an unknown source earlier this month, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday.
Records obtained by BuzzFeed News show the director of the state corrections department, Wendy Kelly, paid $250 cash for 40 vials of midazolam — a sedative used as the first of three drugs in a lethal injection cocktail — on Aug. 4 and later filled out paperwork to be reimbursed for the purchase. A department spokesman said 40 vials is enough for two executions.
Arkansas is one of several death penalty states that have put executions on hold because of shortages in lethal injection drugs; many have resorted to drastic measures to obtain drugs or considered other execution methods.
Arkansas’ secrecy law lets the state keep details of how officials obtained the drugs private. Lawmakers argue the law is necessary to keep the manufacturers of the drugs hidden amid growing scrutiny of the death penalty. Capital attorneys say that the law prevents them from challenging lethal injection protocols in court. There are concerns about midazolam’s effectiveness as an anesthetic after several botched executions involving the drug, including the gruesome 2014 execution of Joseph Wood in Arizona.
Arkansas is gearing up to use the new drugs before they expire in January 2019. The state attorney general on Thursday asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson to set a date for the execution of Jack Greene, 62, who has been on death row since 1991, when he was convicted of killing a minister.
Greene’s attorney is fighting the execution order and said Greene has “well-documented brain damage and mental illness.” Three of four inmates Arkansas executed in April showed signs of mental illness, according to a report from Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project.
“Capital punishment should not be used on vulnerable people like the severely mentally ill. We hope Governor Hutchinson will refrain from setting an execution date for Mr. Greene since he is not competent for execution,” the attorney, John Williams, said in a statement.
In an interview, Williams said he is also looking into how Arkansas got the drugs. “It’s troubling that now all their drugs come from these side-of-the-road suppliers,” he said.
During the state’s execution spree in April, pharmaceutical manufacturer West-Ward, which makes midazolam, filed an amicus brief asking a federal judge to stay the executions because it did not want its product used. But the state went forward with four of eight planned executions. Eyewitnesses at Kenneth Williams’ execution in April said he convulsed on the gurney long after midazolam should have knocked him unconscious. Lawyers for another executed man, Jack Jones, said he “gulped for air” before he died.
West-Ward said in a statement that the company has “no reason to believe” that Arkansas purchased its midazolam: “We are aware of the risk of our products being diverted in the U.S. for use in lethal injection protocols and accordingly, we control their sale as tightly as we can.”