LITTLE ROCK -- A federal judge upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures used in Arkansas for carrying out the death penalty.
A group of inmates on death row had challenged the protocol used for capital punishment, arguing that it violated constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
A federal judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas denied the inmates' claims and wrote that evidence presented during a trial last year did not prove the drugs used for lethal injection created a substantial risk of severe pain.
Arkansas has 30 inmates on death row. All are men, 15 are white, 14 are African-American and one is Hispanic. The last time the state carried out capital punishment was in April of 2017, when four inmates were executed by injections of three drugs.
Before the executions in 2017, the previous execution occurred in 2005. There was an even longer gap between executions, from 1964 to 1990, because of rulings by the United States Supreme Court. During that gap, the legislature approved Act 774 of 1983, making lethal injection the method for execution.
In 1990, Arkansas became the 14th state to execute an inmate since the 1976 Supreme Court ruling that once again allowed states to carry out capital punishment. The high court had ruled in 1972 that the death penalty was cruel and unusual and therefore prohibited under the Eighth Amendment.
The Arkansas inmates who unsuccessfully challenged Arkansas lethal injection protocol cited the Eighth Amendment.
One of the inmates executed in Arkansas in 1990 originally had been sentenced before Act 774 of 1983 took effect, thus he was allowed to choose his method of execution. He chose the electric chair. The other inmate executed in 1990 was the first to die by lethal injection.
The first drug injected is midazolam, a sedative. The second is vecuronium bromide, a paralytic drug. The third drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart from beating.
Attorneys for the inmates argued that the first drug injected, the sedative midazolam, does not always sedate a person deeply enough for them to not feel pain. Witnesses at the trial last year testified that they had seen one inmate moving and making sounds during his lethal injection.
The judge noted that the published side effects of midazolam include muscle tremors and involuntary movement. Also, the judge wrote that not all witnesses agreed on what they had observed during the lethal injection.
Witnesses at the trial had observed executions by lethal injection in Arkansas and in other states, both with and without midazolam.
Lottery ticket sales
The Arkansas lottery broke a record for ticket sales in the month of May when $52.8 million in scratch off tickets were sold.
For comparison, in May of 2019, vendors sold $32.5 million in scratch off tickets.
Most of the proceeds from lottery ticket sales are returned as prizes, but $8.6 million of the total amount was designated for college scholarships.
The lottery director noted that most vendors have remained open during the pandemic. The state's casinos, as well as movie theaters, concerts and sporting events, had to close. Also, gasoline prices are relatively low.
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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Legislative Council.