By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Arkansas on Wednesday set execution dates for eight convicted murderers starting in October and running until January as the state moved to carry out its first death sentences in a decade
under orders by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson's plans call for two executions by lethal injection on a single day in each of the next four months.
The governor scheduled the order of executions of the eight condemned men based on the time passed since the crimes, with the man convicted in the oldest case being executed first and the rest in the chronological order of the murders.
"All of the criminal judgments and sentences of death, which have undergone review in state and federal courts, are final," a statement from Hutchinson's office said.
Bruce Ward, 58, and Don Davis, 52, are the first set to die with an execution date of Oct. 21. Ward was convicted in the murder of a Little Rock woman in 1989. Davis was found guilty of the 1990 killing of a woman in Rogers, Arkansas.
Subsequent executions are to be carried out on Nov. 3, Dec. 14 and Jan. 14 under the governor's plan. Four of the men are white, the other four black.
Jeff Rosenzweig, a Little Rock attorney who represents some of the condemned men, said he would ask a state judge to void Hutchinson's order because of pending litigation involving the source of the drugs to be used in the executions.
"We need to know if the drugs come from a reputable vendor, and the state cannot abrogate a contract," Rosenzweig said.
Arkansas is the only state in the South to have not carried out an execution in recent years.
Legal and political battles over death chamber procedures and stays of executions for other inmates have been the main reasons why the state has not carried out an execution since 2005.
Resuming capital punishment could prove problematic due to a shortage of execution drugs stemming from a sales boycott by European pharmaceutical firms that has sent U.S. states that use the death penalty scrambling for alternatives.
Nineteen of the 50 states have abolished the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Will Dunham)