In February, Arkansas Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said that the state needed to use its final batch of midazolam before its expiration date at the end of April, so he reportedly set execution dates for seven inmates and perhaps even a record for the first state to carry out such a “condensed spate of executions in the modern era of the death penalty in the US,” according to The Guardian.

This is especially surprising since the state has not executed anyone for 12 years. One of the arguments that attorneys defending the death row inmates are making is that the rush to execute them comes down to “Cruel And Unusual punishment” which is outlawed by the U.S.

Constitution. According to various reports, the prisoners are scheduled to die by Lethal Injection starting with two on April 17, then two more three days later followed by two more on April 24 and the last on April 27.

Attorneys say that this process is especially cruel because a batch of executions like this could lead to mistakes, but their main argument is on the executions overall. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the using the sedative midazolam is not considered cruel or unusual, or a violation of the Eighth Amendment. It's generally the first drug used to make the inmate unconscious before other drugs are administered to stop their breathing and their heart. Cruel and unusual also applies to the scheduled execution for Bruce Earl Ward after 7 PM next Monday, specifically because he's diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Controversies surrounding lethal injection drugs

Midazolam is the drug that was involved in two widely reported executions that were considered botched with the last several years. The first one was with the execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last year where after the drugs were administered, he lived for 45 minutes convulsing and writhing before he would die of a heart attack.

In January of 2014, Dennis McGuire was the first inmate in Ohio put to death with the drug. In his series of injections another drug called hydropmorphone was also used. The combination was used to speed up the state of unconsciousness then slow down breathing and heartbeat. Regarding both of these drugs, it's said that inmates were given a lethal dose of each, or overdosed to death.

This in itself was also debated as being considered cruel and unusual. McGuire was the inmate who reportedly lived for an additional five minutes, snorting and sputtering before being pronounced death 15 minutes later. Many states have had to reconsider the death penalty because drugs like pancuronium bromida, sodium thiopental and potassium chloride were harder to get as manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe either refused to make them anymore or have banned them from being sent to the U.S.

Racing to stop executions

Initially, there were going to be eight inmates executed but Jason McGehee's was stayed by another federal judge. But as of this writing, it still needs the final approval of governor Hutchinson who is rushing to kill seven.

It's been stated that McGehee's stay doesn't mean that he cannot still be executed after the expiration of the drug supply. The Guardian also reports that three attorneys representing the inmates describe that the execution by "assembly line" is putting tremendous stress on the executioners and more specifically, the system, as well as the professionalism of the attorney to the client as the media outlet quoted an attorney, “Competent representation in capital cases requires establishing a relationship of trust with the client. No matter how professional the relationship between a death-sentenced client and his counsel, having a client executed is a uniquely taxing professional experience.”

Governor Hutchinson has himself even said that he is caught in a hard situation but not over deciding whether he should order stays, but in scheduling the executions and meeting the drug's expiration date.

Recent reports have said that the Arkansas governor's popularity ratings have been rising in the state so it doesn't appear as if this controversy is affecting him. The state still has 24 other inmates left on death row. Given the years experimenting with lethal injection drugs, it's likely they might seek out other drugs for them to experiment with. The drug manufacturers have reportedly demanded that their drugs not be used for these executions and actor Johnny Depp has also joined in protest against them.