LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he hopes to set execution dates before January now that the state has a new supply of a lethal injection drug that had expired last month.
The Republican governor said he planned to schedule the executions once an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling upholding the state's execution secrecy law becomes effective and he receives a request from the attorney general. The ruling won't become effective unless justices deny a request for a rehearing by eight death row inmates.
"I certainly would expect to set dates before January, absolutely," Hutchinson, who was in Europe on a trade mission, told reporters by phone. "It's been way too long and painful for the victims and their families, so we would set the dates without any undue delay."
Arkansas has 34 inmates on death row. It hasn't executed anyone since 2005. Hutchinson had set execution dates for the eight inmates last year before they were put on hold by the state Supreme Court during the challenge to the secrecy law.
The Department of Correction said Tuesday it has received a supply of vecuronium bromide with an expiration date of March 1, 2018. The state's previous supply of the paralytic expired on June 30. The department has said the supply is sufficient for eight executions.
Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said the state's supply of the other two drugs used in lethal injections hasn't changed. The state's potassium chloride expires in January 2017 and the midazolam expires in April 2017.
In October, the Department of Correction said in court documents that the unnamed supplier of the original batches of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride would not supply more when they expired.
In a 4-3 ruling last month, the state Supreme Court reversed a lower court's decision against the execution secrecy law, which requires the Department of Correction to conceal the maker, seller and other information about the drugs. The inmates argued that the law could lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the state had reneged on an earlier pledge to share information.
Hutchinson said he believed Tuesday's announcement shows the secrecy law, approved last year, helped open new supplies for the lethal injection drug.
The attorney general's office has until Thursday to respond to the inmates' request for a rehearing. In their request for one, the inmates challenged the state Supreme Court's interpretation of a clause in the Arkansas Constitution requiring an "accurate and detailed statement" about state expenditures and receipts to be published. Justices last month ruled the constitution left it to lawmakers to decide how such information should be disclosed.
The inmates also have asked the court to stay the mandate in the execution secrecy case if their request for a rehearing is denied, saying they also planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the case.
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This story has been corrected to show that the state's previous supply of vecuronium bromide expired last month, not last week.