Thursday, April 20, 2017


Beginning on the day after Easter, the State of Arkansas planned to execute eight people in ten days. Arkansas Plan. As of Wednesday, April 19, four of the inmates have received stays of execution. No one was executed Monday night, when Bruce Ward and Don Davis were scheduled to be executed. Both were granted stays by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The execution of Stacey Johnson, scheduled for April 20, was also stayed by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The execution of Jason McGehee, scheduled for April 27, was stayed by a federal court after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended clemency for him. The other four executions are now subject to a stay based on a lawsuit by the provider of one of the execution drugs, who says the drugs were improperly sold to the state for executions:  “The company said it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out.” McKesson Lawsuit

 Meanwhile, a recent article sheds light on an aspect of the execution ordeal which is not often examined. Dr. Allen Ault, a former commissioner of the Georgia, Mississippi and Colorado Departments of Corrections, has written a piece in Time Magazine explaining the effect of executions on the people who must carry them out. This is an aspect of the death penalty that doesn’t get enough attention, and Dr. Ault’s views are worth considering. Dr. Ault presided over five executions. He was the man who instructed the executioners to go forward. After five executions, he resigned. The stress was too much. Interviewed in The Guardian, Dr. Ault expressed concern for the mental health of the men and women who would have to kill so many people so quickly. ““As the old saying goes,” he said, “you dig two graves: one for the condemned, one for the avenger. That’s what will happen to this execution team – many of them will figuratively have to dig their own grave too.” The Guardian

Dr. Ault explained how he felt when he conducted executions: “For me, unlike the ‘kill or be killed’ mindset of war or other forms of self-defense, carrying out executions felt very much like participating in premeditated and rehearsed murder. . . . It exacts severe mental trauma—even when done under the auspices of state law. As I have written before; I don’t remember their names, but I still see their faces in my nightmares.” Allen Ault, “Former Warden: Arkansas Execution Rush is Dangerous and Risky,” Time Magazine, March 28, 2017.

Dr. Ault is not alone. Two former execution workers in South Carolina, Craig Baxley and Terry Bracey, sued the state for pressuring them to assist in executions with little training or counseling. The suit was dismissed; the trauma remains. As Mr. Bracey put it, “Taking that plunger and pushing it in set me on a course I wasn’t prepared for.” Frank Thompson, the former superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, told The Guardian, “There is absolutely no way to conduct a well-run execution without causing at least one person to lose a little bit of their humanity, or to start at least one person on the cumulative path to post-traumatic stress.” This is just another example of how the death penalty creates more victims.