LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas attorney general’s office warned legislators Monday not to explore alternative execution methods after the state’s lethal injection protocol and execution secrecy law were found constitutional by Arkansas’ high court.
The House Judiciary Committee heard a proposal for an interim study on hypoxia — replacing the oxygen in a person’s lungs with an inert gas like nitrogen — as a backup method for executions. But the committee decided not to vote after the attorney general’s legislative director, Cory Cox, advised members to “let sleeping dogs lie.”
Cox said the office doesn’t think it’s necessary to pursue alternatives after the Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling.
“We were curious, if we have a constitutional method of lethal injection, why we would re-litigate that,” he told the committee, saying an alternative method could create new reasons for litigation. “We would caution as the attorneys for the state that anything that might look as throwing doubt on what has been declared as constitutional by the state Supreme Court could be problematic.”
Supporters of the study said lethal drug supplies are drying up and new approaches to executing death row inmates should be studied in case the state runs out of options to obtain the drugs.
Rep. Mary Broadaway, who requested the study, said she doesn’t generally support the death penalty but thinks it’s appropriate for Arkansas to “start looking at other options” if lethal drugs become unavailable.
“This is not a referendum on the death penalty,” said the Democrat from Paragould in northeast Arkansas. “What this is about is Arkansas at this time has chosen to have a death penalty and there has been a trend around the United States with having problems implementing the death penalty.”
The state’s current execution law allows either a one-drug barbiturate method for lethal injection or a three-drug method of midazolam to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide to paralyze the lungs and stop the inmate’s breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. The law states that if lethal injection is ruled invalid, the state shall use electrocution to carry out death sentences.
Attorneys for the inmates who brought the challenge of the law have until Oct. 19 to file a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state Supreme Court’s split decision from June.