Arkansas governor: Execution plan just part of the job

2017-04-17 09:12
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. (Brian Chilson, AP File)

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. (Brian Chilson, AP File)

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Little Rock - Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson comes across as a reluctant figure just carrying out the duties of his office when he discusses his extraordinary plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days.

Although the plan faces multiple legal hurdles, no other state has executed that many people so quickly since the US Supreme Court re-authorised the death penalty in 1976, and it has thrust Hutchinson and his solidly Republican state into the centre of the debate over capital punishment.

It's an unusual position for Hutchinson, a low-key former prosecutor who delves into policy issues with the help of charts and graphs and isn't known for giving fiery speeches. Yet it was he who signed off on the plan to execute so many prisoners before the state's supply of an execution drug expires at the end of the month, with the first two originally scheduled for Monday.

"It's not something I designed from when I ran for governor," Hutchinson told reporters at a recent news conference, the only time he's spoken at length publicly about the decision. "It's something that is put in your lap as the result of 25 years of litigation action and it's here for me."

If allowed to proceed with the executions, they would be the first Arkansas has carried out since 2005 due to legal wrangling and trouble obtaining the drugs. 

Aside from the inmates' lawsuits, the plan - which called for double executions on four days - has drawn opposition from civil rights leaders and groups such as the American Bar Association. Religious leaders, meanwhile, have appealed to the devoutly Christian governor's conscience, with one pastor invoking the biblical story of Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who reluctantly ordered Jesus' crucifixion at the urging of a crowd.

"I think [Hutchinson's] a good man. ... What he can't do is what Pilate did: 'I wash my hands,'" said the Reverend Clint Schnekloth, of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville.

Arkansas' lull in executions wasn't a major issue when Hutchinson ran for governor three years ago. But as he prepares to run for re-election, there likely will be little political fallout from Hutchinson's aggressive push for executions, as the death penalty remains popular in his state.

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