by Catholic News Service
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Wendy Kelley, director of the state’s Department of Corrections, have been named as defendants in two lawsuits that are seeking preliminary injunctions to stop eight executions planned for April.
In late February, Hutchinson signed proclamations to set four execution dates for eight men on death row between April 17-27, so they could take place before one of the state’s lethal injection drugs expired.
The lawsuits, filed March 27 and March 28, claim the state’s rush to carry out the executions violates the inmates’ constitutional rights to adequate legal counsel and the time needed to fight the governor’s order.
Hutchinson’s decision was announced days after the state’s attorney general said the inmates had exhausted all of their appeals.
Among those protesting the scheduled executions is a group of Catholic priests who wrote to the governor urging him to commute death sentences for the eight men and give them life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests March 28 released the letter to Hutchinson, signed by Father Bernard “Bob” Bonnot on behalf of the organization. He chairs the leadership team of the group, which has nearly 1,200 members in dioceses and religious communities throughout the United States.
In part, the priests asserted in the March 22 letter that every execution “risks the execution of an innocent man” and “sustains the status of the United States as the only major nation in the developed world that continues this unnecessary mode of justice.”
The priests also state that execution “ends any hope of rehabilitating the individual” and that following required legal processes, “costs more . . . than to sustain such inmates through life in prison.”
Executions are “an attack on the dignity of human persons” and “a remnant of barbaric times,” the priests concluded. “Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops have called for abolition of the death penalty. We stand with them.”
The Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment, said if the executions go forward, the state will execute inmates at a rate that hasn’t happened in any state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.