An Arkansas judge who last year declared unconstitutional a law that allows the state to keep confidential the source of drugs used for execution by lethal injection has lamented a 5-4 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court reversing his ruling.
In a breakout session on the death penalty at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly June 24, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said that since the Supreme Court upheld the use of capital punishment for certain crimes, the death penalty debate has shifted to whether specific execution procedures satisfy the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“How it’s being done now is we’ll make sure it’s nice by making sure it’s secret so you don’t know how barbaric it is,” said Griffen, who also serves as pastor of CBF-affiliated New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark. Griffen said legal action surrounding capital punishment now focuses on “seeking to discover the chemicals that are being used to put people to death and discover where they are coming from.”
The day before the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a state law that allows for the type, manufacturers and sellers of drugs used for lethal injections to be kept confidential. The law is designed to ensure the state can find a place to buy the drugs in a market where pharmaceutical companies are rapidly withdrawing from the lethal injection trade.
Not only are inmates on death row not entitled to know who is selling the drugs, Griffen said, they also cannot find out the qualifications of the individuals who will administer them.
“If you want to euthanize your dog, you know that under your state only the people who have certain credentials can put your dog down,” Griffen said at the CBF workshop. “If you want to euthanize your neighbor — if you want to kill your neighbor in the name of the state — I ten-time double-dog dare you to find out the qualifications of the person who is doing it.”
“As a matter of fact, there is no requirement that the state tell you, and they have an affirmative obligation to not disclose that,” the judge continued. “It is amazing. One would call it irony, but it’s too nice a word.”
Pfizer, the world’s second-largest drug company adopted distribution controls in March to prevent its drugs from reaching execution chambers across the United States.
“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the company said in a statement. “Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment.”
Reprieve, a New York-based human rights organization, said in May that all 25 FDA-approved manufacturers of potential execution drugs now have blocked their sale for use in capital punishment.
The ruling by the Arkansas high court clears the way for the execution of eight people on death row whose lives were extended by Griffen’s temporary restraining order last Oct. 9. One of the state’s execution drugs expires before the Supreme Court decision goes in effect, however, and the supplier has told officials it would not supply any more.