Crime Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend

16:35  17 april  2017
16:35  17 april  2017 Source:   USA TODAY SPORTS

Good News: U.S. No Longer in This Deadly 'Top 5'

  Good News: U.S. No Longer in This Deadly 'Top 5' For the first time in a decade, the United States is not among the world's top five executioners.With just 20 executions last year, the U.S. had its lowest use of the death penalty since 1991, according to a newly released Amnesty International report that maps out executions globally. It was one of 23 countries that carried out executions.

A judge ruled Arkansas misled a drug company to get access to one of its drugs to use in lethal injections. Video provided by Newsy Newslook.

The Arkansas Supreme Court halted the executions of two men originally scheduled to be put to death Monday night. USA TODAY. Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend .

  Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend © Provided by USA Today An unprecedented series of recent court rulings that halted the execution of eight Arkansas prisoners reflects a decades-long national trend that has sharply curtailed the use of capital punishment.

Death penalty experts say the court decisions are in keeping with a number of factors prompting executions in the United States to decline, including challenges based on DNA evidence, litigation over the drugs used in executions and increased use of life without parole as a sentencing option.

Prisoner executions nationwide have plummeted over the past two decades, decreasing nearly every year since 1999, when 98 prisoners were executed. There were 20 prisoner executions nationwide in 2016, the fewest since 1991.

Lawyers Desperate to Stall Arkansas' Spate of Executions

  Lawyers Desperate to Stall Arkansas' Spate of Executions Lawyers for the seven death row inmates scheduled to be put to death in an 11-day span starting next week are racing trying to halt the executions.Lawyers for seven death row inmates scheduled to be put to death starting next week are desperately trying to halt the executions, arguing in federal court that the proceedings are unconstitutional and would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend . In her order, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker flagged two issues: the use of the midazolam and inmates’ access to their attorneys on the days of their executions . The state filed an amended plan Monday that grants attorneys for the inmates

► Related: Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend ► More:Federal judge blocks 6 executions in 10 days in Arkansas ► More:Supreme Court ruling in 2015 may lead to 7 executions in 11 days.

The growth of life without parole as a sentencing option in many states, as well as the high cost of prosecuting a capital case, has led prosecutors to push for the death penalty in fewer cases, said Michael Benza, senior instructor of law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

“If you think of the death penalty as sort of a freeway, it’s actually becoming more of a country lane with everybody peeling off into all kinds of different non-capital ways,” he said. 

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law, said the use of DNA evidence has led to closer scrutiny of death penalty cases by both the legal system and the general public.

“We’ve seen a precipitous decline since 1999 and probably a lot of that had to do with these innocence cases,” she said. “Attorneys were starting to introduce DNA into court, and you had these cases showing that people were innocent.”

Arkansas Executions: First Two Men Scheduled to Die Push for Delay

  Arkansas Executions: First Two Men Scheduled to Die Push for Delay Arkansas Executions: First Two Men Scheduled to Die Push for DelayAttorneys for death row inmates Don Davis and Bruce Ward have asked the Arkansas State Supreme Court to temporarily stay their executions, scheduled for April 17, until the conclusion of McWilliams v. Dunn, which is playing out in Washington.

Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend . Arkansas originally sought to execute eight men, convicted of different murders decades ago, over an 11-day period because its supply of midazolam expires April 30.

While both of Wednesday’s rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when another of its drugs expires. Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend .

Although lethal injection became the nation’s primary method of execution in the 1990s, Denno said it is only in recent years that sustained challenges by death row inmates and death penalty opponents have gained traction in the court system.

On Saturday, a federal judge ordered Arkansas to halt the planned executions of eight prisoners in less than two weeks, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson said were necessary because the state’s supply of one of three drugs used in executions was set to expire.

In Saturday’s ruling, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued an injunction blocking the state's plans on the grounds that the condemned inmates have a right to challenge the drug protocol that would be used to execute them.

“A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her execution by showing that the state’s method ‘creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain’ and ‘the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives,’ ” Baker wrote. The federal ruling followed federal and state court decisions that also dealt setbacks to the execution plan. 

The Latest: Arkansas asks court to lift inmate's stay

  The Latest: Arkansas asks court to lift inmate's stay Arkansas is asking the state's highest court to reconsider its decision to halt the execution of one of the first inmates who had been scheduled to die under a plan to execute several men before the end of the month.Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the state Supreme Court Saturday to lift the stay it issued to Bruce Ward, who was scheduled to die on Monday. The court had issued the stay on Friday.State and federal rulings have blocked the state's plan to execute eight inmates before its supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of April.

Pause on Arkansas executions highlights national trend . In December, Alabama executed a man who gasped and coughed for 13 minutes during his execution by lethal injection.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against capital punishment, said the nation is “in the middle of a major climate change of the death penalty.” 

"When the executions have been delayed, new evidence has been discovered in a number of cases that has later become the basis for overturning them,” Dunham said.

Joshua Marquis, the district attorney for Clatsop County, Ore., and a proponent of the death penalty, attributed the decline in executions to a decrease in the number of murder cases in which the death penalty might be appropriate.  

Most Americans continue to support the concept of a justice system that includes the death penalty, he said, noting that since 1964, no state has abolished the death penalty by popular vote. 

“I think what you’ll see with the death penalty is fewer (executions),” Marquis said. “But I think states will maintain it — unless, of course, there’s some sort of sea change in American opinion.”

Arkansas court blocks 1 execution set for Thursday .
The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted one of two executions planned for Thursday night, once again throwing a wrench in the state's plans to conduct several executions before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires.The court ruled that Stacey Johnson could pursue his requests for enhanced DNA testing in hopes of proving his innocence in the 1993 rape and killing of Carol Heath. The Innocence Project filed the appeal along with Johnson's attorney."We've established that modern DNA testing methods can prove Mr. Johnson's innocence, and Arkansas law clearly established that Mr. Johnson is entitled to that testing," said Karen Thompson, a staff attorney with

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