September 1, 2015 / 8:53 PM / 2 years ago

Arkansas attorney general asks governor to set execution dates

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Arkansas' 10-year hiatus in capital punishment moved nearer to its end on Tuesday when state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge formally asked Governor Asa Hutchinson to set execution dates for eight inmates who have exhausted their appeals.

"These individuals were sentenced to death for the heinous crimes they committed. It is far past time that the sentences be carried out and justice served," Rutledge said in a statement.

"I urge the governor to move forward with setting execution dates as quickly as possible," she added.

Both Rutledge and Hutchinson are Republicans.

State law requires the attorney general to certify that appeals are at an end before execution dates can be set by the governor. 

Hutchinson received the letter and the next step will be to set the dates, the governor's office said.

The eight inmates, all convicted of capital murder and sentenced by juries to die, are among the 34 inmates, all men, on death row in Arkansas.

Arkansas is moving toward carrying out its first executions since 2005 even as other states move away from the practice and public support for the death penalty slips.

Nebraska in May became the first Republican-dominated U.S. state since 1973 to abolish capital punishment as legislators overrode the governor's veto of a bill repealing the death penalty.

Nineteen of the 50 states have abolished the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Arkansas is the only state in the South to have not carried out an execution in recent years. In August, officials said the state had purchased the drugs it plans to use in lethal injections.

The last execution in Arkansas was in 2005. Legal and political battles over death chamber procedures and stays of executions for other inmates have been the main reasons why the state has not had another execution since then.

A new state law permits the names of the chemicals and the vendor to remain under seal, but local media reported that the drugs include midazolam, a sedative that death penalty opponents have challenged as inappropriate for executions.

Critics said midazolam cannot achieve even the level of unconsciousness required for surgery and should not be used in lethal injections.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June found the drug did not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, a ruling that provoked a caustic debate among the justices about the death penalty.

Reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Will Dunham

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