Thursday, April 13, 2017

Governor Hutchinson meets the press to talk capital punishment

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 1:15 PM

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Since scheduling the executions of eight inmates over the course of 11 days, Governor Hutchinson has said little publicly on the topic. Today, at meeting with press at the Governor's Mansion, Hutchinson acknowledged it was unlikely he would grant executive clemency to any of the seven men scheduled to die beginning Monday (the execution of an eighth man, Jason McGehee, was stayed by a federal judge pending a 30-day public comment period required by law after the state Parole Board recommended McGehee for clemency). But Hutchinson said he couldn't predict what would happen over the next two weeks as far as whether he might stop any executions.

Hutchinson said too little attention had been paid to the victims of the crimes the men scheduled to be executed committed. He spent much of his opening address reviewing the details of the mens' crime.

Asked about the public outcry over the compressed schedule of the executions — the most in such a short period since the U.S. Supreme Court revived the death penalty in 1976 — Hutchinson said he could have spread the killings over a number of months.

"But if you think about that, if I had chose to spread it out over four months or six months, would that have made any difference to the death penalty opponents who are coming in protesting this? Would it have changed any of the circumstances or their views on this or made it any more acceptable to them? I don’t think so.

"If I spread it out, say I just wanted to set two in that time period, am I supposed to go to Dick Daniels, the husband of Jane Daniels, who was killed [by Don Davis] in Rogers, Arkansas, brutally murdered? Am I supposed to go to him and say, 'I was worried about how the state would look? I was worried about whether I would get too many requests from the media. … Or I could go to the Cecil Boren family and say, 'I know you’re anxious, it’s been 25 years, but we don’t want to be in a hurry about do this. We’re worried about the stress to the state. Or we’re worried about the stress to others.' [Boren was killed by Kenneth Williams.]

"When I set these, I thought not only about the process or the responsibility, but also about the victims and what they’ve endured for the last 25 years."

Hutchinson said he'd reviewed grand jury findings and a special Department of Correction report from Oklahoma on the botched execution of Clayton Lockett and said it was clear to him that there were a lot of problems there. He said he'd learned from them and tried to do what he could to ensure Arkansas does "it the right way."

I noted his admiration for Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, who famously commuted the sentences of all the prisoners on death row before leaving office. In a statement, Rockefeller said he could not and would not turn his “back on lifelong Christian teachings and beliefs, merely to let history run out its course on a fallible and failing theory of punitive justice.” So I asked Hutchinson both what he made of that part of Rockefeller’s legacy, and how, as someone who’s made no secret of his deeply held Christian faith, he squared that with capital punishment?

"I admire Governor Rockefeller for many different reasons," he said. "In this instance, while I disagree with his conclusion, I admire his conviction and the fact he was willing to stand by his conviction. He did this as he was leaving office. But it also reflects the differences we have in our society. Those of faith have different views of their responsibility. What are the Biblical standards and what are God’s standards on this and how God views this? There’s disagreement among the faith community on this topic. From my standpoint, I have two convictions: One, I think the death penalty is appropriate punishment for the most serious and heinous crimes in our society. Secondly, I have a duty as governor to faithfully execute the laws of our state.

"I’m comfortable with my convictions, but I respect those that disagree with that. But until we reach a different consensus in our country, then I have a responsibility to carry that out."

Later, asked about Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor's view that Hutchinson has a higher power to answer to, the governor said he and Taylor had a different view of scriptures.

"I feel comfortable in my understanding of my responsibility in terms of faith and scripture and as governor. You don’t separate your eternal responsibility vs. your temporal responsibility. I’m comfortable with where I am."

But Hutchinson conceded, "It is the heaviest and most serious responsibility I will have as governor."

Hutchinson acknowledged news coverage had been critical of the coming executions, but said it had mostly been the European press. "If I was to spread out the executions over five months, would they be less critical? No."

He said he didn't think there wouldn't be any lasting economic impact to the state.

"Since 2000, Texas has had 343 executions. Europe hasn't stopped doing business in Texas," he said, adding examples of foreign car factories choosing to locate in Alabama and South Carolina, two Southern states that have executed prisoners much more regularly than Arkansas in recent years.

Reporters asked Hutchinson a number of questions about midazolam, a sedative that death penalty opponents say cannot sufficiently sedate inmates in lethal injection procedures.

Hutchinson said, based on his research, midazolam was effective.

"It’s not an option of midazolam or something else," Hutchinson said. "The courts have approved this three-drug protocol that was set by the legislature, and it was set by the legislature because death penalty opponents said, 'We don’t want you to have discretion in how you do it, so we are logically following what the death penalty opponents have raised and it’s forced us into this corner."

What's next after Arkansas's supply of midazolam expires?

"It’s a problem that many states face, and it cries out for a solution," Hutchinson said. " I think the future in terms of drug supply is unknown. It’s obviously difficult. I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible. It’s just unknown, and we understand the difficulty of it."

Asked why a law that makes information about the drugs used in the execution protocol secret hadn't made it easier for the state to secure execution drugs, Hutchinson said, "It has made it easier. It’s made it possible. I don’t think we would have acquired the drugs we have without that confidentiality."

Hutchinson said he tried to set up a meeting with the Obama administration to share an idea about supplying the drugs, and the administration wouldn't meet with him. "Let's see if the Trump administration will meet with me," he said.

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