Eight Arkansas death row inmates who are scheduled to die over a 10-day period in April filed a lawsuit in federal court on Monday to halt their executions, saying the state's rush to the death chamber was reckless and unconstitutional.
Governor Asa Hutchinson has approved back-to-back executions for April 17, 20, 24 and 27 to make sure a difficult-to-acquire lethal injection chemicals do not expire before the state can implement the punishments.
Arkansas' last execution was in 2005, and it has faced numerous legal challenges since then about its protocols and drug procurement secrecy.
Most U.S. death penalty states abandoned multiple executions on the same day about two decades ago because of factors including the additional strain put on the families of victims, inmates and prison staff, who needed time to review procedures and decompress.
"There is no justifiable rationale to hold multiple executions on the same day. Nor is there a justifiable rationale to hold eight executions within 10 days," according to the lawsuit, filed in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The lawsuit said the state is planning its first execution in dozen years with a new prison systems head, new protocols and a new set of lethal injection drugs, including midazolam, a sedative that has been dropped by states after it was a part of a few troubled executions.
"Just one mistake at any point can have disastrous consequences," the lawsuit said.
Hutchinson has said it would be irresponsible to tell the victims' families that Arkansas had the lethal injection drugs and did not carry out the executions.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, double and triple executions on the same day have occurred 10 times, all between 1994 and 2000, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors U.S. capital punishment.
No state has executed eight prisoners in 10 days, and only one, Texas, has executed eight prisoners in a calendar month, it said.
"This is unprecedented and it is reckless," said Robert Dunham, the center's executive director.
Oklahoma was the last state to schedule a double execution, in April 2014. Its lethal injection protocol failed on the first execution, however, and the state postponed the second one.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock)