An Arkansas judge refuses to be silenced for speaking out against capital punishment. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen participated in a vigil and demonstration outside of the Governor’s Mansion on Tuesday (April 17) marking the one-year anniversary of the state carrying out eight executions over a two-week period, in a decision marred with controversy as many of the inmates executed reportedly suffered from mental illnesses including bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.
Due to his feelings against executions, Griffen has been barred from presiding over death penalty cases. During Tuesday’s demonstration, he lay tied to a cot, as dozens of protestors gathered nearby.
According to Arkansas Online, Griffen rose from the cot just after 7 p.m., and when asked why he participated in the demonstration he replied, “We are still killing,” before walking away.
Griffen, who doubles as a Baptist minister, “took part in a peaceful and reverent Good Friday prayer vigil,” at the same location last year to express a “moral and religious opposition to capital punishment,” he wrote in a blog post.
In 2017, Griffen issued a restraining order temporarily blocking the Arkansas Department of Corrections from using the drug vecuronium bromide for lethal injections, and subsequently delayed the string of planned executions.
The order came after the medical supplier filed a lawsuit accusing the state’s DOC of lying about their purpose for purchasing the drug. According to the complaint, which names the state’s governor and Arkansas DOC director Kelly Wendell, officials claimed that the drug would be used for medical purposes, not executions.
As a vocal opponent of the death penalty, Griffen was criticized for ruling over the case. The state filed to appeal the order, which was eventually approved allowing the executions to continue.
Griffen’s opinions have also made him a target of state Sen. Trent Garner, who has repeatedly called for his impeachment. On Tuesday, Garner tweeted that Griffen’s participation in the recent protest “disgraced the office that he holds” and accused him of using a “desperate, attention seeking move to further bring shame on himself.”
But Griffen appears to be unshaken by detractors and has already filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state’s Supreme Court justices for barring him from presiding over death penalty cases. “In that lawsuit, I challenged the permanent ban issued by the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court as a violation of my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom to exercise my religion, and my Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law (because I was not given notice nor a hearing before it was imposed),” he explained in his blog. “I also challenged the permanent ban as a violation of my Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law (because it is more severe than punishment imposed to white judges who committed notorious and illegal conduct such as accepting a bribe, drunken and reckless driving, and demanding and accepting sexual favors from defendants in exchange for issuing lenient sentences). And I challenged the permanent ban because it resulted from conspiracy by the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court and others to deprive me of the powers of my elected office based on animosity against me because I am African-American.”
Last week, a federal court ruled that Griffen’s lawsuit “asserts factually plausible claims against the justices,” and that his civil rights were violated, he wrote. Furthermore, Griffen said that his lawyers are working to “uncover and expose the facts that bear out my legal claims” which he says justices “and others are desperate to hide.”
Though obligated to follow the law, Griffen noted that his ability to do his job doesn’t compel him to “agree with every law,” and that the First Amendment protects his “freedom to hold and express moral and religious opposition to the death penalty, including freedom to peacefully and lawfully question the morality of state-sanctioned premeditated and deliberate killing of people who have been convicted for the premeditated and deliberate killing of other persons.”
“If a person who has been convicted of premeditated murder is deliberately and premeditatedly killed, we should condemn that killing as murder,” he continued. “Murder is wrong, even when the state hires people to do it. Anger and bloodlust are not excuses for the state to commit premeditated murder of people who have committed premeditated murder for an understandable reason. Two wrongs don’t make anything right.”
See video of the protest below.