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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Arkansas must urgently halt ‘conveyor belt’ of executions

16 Apr 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Abolition of the Death Penalty

The US state of Arkansas must halt the execution of eight death row prisoners, seven of whom are due to be killed in an 11-day period this month, Amnesty International said today, highlighting legal concerns and the fact that two of the men facing death have serious mental disabilities.

Arkansas has not put anyone to death for more than a decade, but plans to execute two men per day on 17, 20 and 24 April, and one man on 27 April, because its supply of the controversial execution drug midazolam will expire at the end of the month.

“The close scheduling of these executions is unprecedented in modern US history. Just four months after the USA recorded its lowest execution total for a quarter of a century, Arkansas is preparing to buck this positive trend in a shameful race to beat a drug expiration date,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“It is not too late for Arkansas to halt these executions. The conveyor belt of death which it is about to set in motion proves how out of step it is with the rest of the world when it comes to state-sanctioned killing, which is on the decline globally as more and more governments, and more US states, recognize it for the cruel anachronism it is.”

Amnesty International continues to call on Governor Asa Hutchinson to commute all eight death sentences.

In some of the cases legal failings meant jurors had nothing like a full picture of who they were being asked to sentence to death. In others, the prisoners have been diagnosed with serious mental disabilities, meaning their executions would be contrary to international law.

At the trial of Jack Jones, for example, the jurors did not know he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly before the crime. Bruce Ward was diagnosed in 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2015 with paranoid schizophrenia. The doctor described his persecutory and grandiose delusions, and said that he does not have a rational understanding of his punishment.

It is a violation of the US Constitution and international law to execute someone who does not understand the reason for, or the reality of, their punishment.

In the case of Marcel Williams, the jury was left entirely in the dark about his childhood of appalling poverty, deprivation and abuse. The only judge to consider this mitigation concluded that the defendant had been utterly failed by his trial lawyers.

“Taken together, these cases could serve as a textbook guide to the problems with the death penalty: arbitrariness, inadequate legal representation, questionable prosecutorial tactics and racial and economic discrimination have all played their part in this raft of death sentences,” said Erika Guevara Rosas.

13 April 2017

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