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Arkansas can’t find enough volunteers to witness back-to-back executions

CNN Newsource

Over the course of 10 days in April, Arkansas plans to put to death eight inmates.

The state code requires that no fewer than six “respectable citizens” be present at each execution.

There’s one problem: It’s having a hard time finding enough volunteers to witness them.

The volunteer pool is apparently thin enough that state Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley invited members of a local Rotary Club to volunteer.

“Temporarily, there was a little laugh from the audience because they thought she might be kidding,” Bill Booker, acting president of the Little Rock Rotary Club, told CNN affiliate FOX16. “It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding.”

Kelley’s “informal efforts” continue, the department told CNN on Friday.

“We remain confident in our ability to carry out these sentences,” spokesman Solomon Graves said.

Who watches executions?

The people who are allowed to witness an execution vary by state, said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Typically, family members of the inmate and relatives of the victims are present, he said. Sometimes, a state requires that lay people who have no stake in the case are present, too.

That could be a member of the media or a citizen witness, such as in Arkansas.

The Arkansas Code doesn’t require that witnesses vary from execution to execution.

So, it’s conceivable that some of the volunteers could witness more than one, Dunham said.

“It’s not natural watching the intentional taking of a human life,” he said. “It has an emotional impact on people.”

And witnessing multiple execution more than just doubles the impact, he said.

“It increases exponentially.”

One obstacle at a time

The eight death row inmates will be put to death between April 17 and April 27, a move that death penalty opponents have called “unprecedented.”

The series of execution has been attributed to the state’s soon-to-be-expire supply of midazolam, a contentious drug that’s been blamed for a spate of botched executions in recent years.

The executions would mark the first time since 2005 that Arkansas has put an inmate to death.