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Press Descends On Arkansas Where Executions Are Held In Legal Suspense


The state of Arkansas had planned to execute two inmates today. Now courts have put that plan on hold. Victims' families, attorneys and witnesses will gather tonight at the small prison where the executions were scheduled to take place. As Bobby Ampezzan of Arkansas Public Media reports, about a dozen international reporters also showed up to cover the executions.

BOBBY AMPEZZAN, BYLINE: Anne Widmann is a documentary filmmaker from Switzerland. She's staying in Pine Bluff near where the executions are scheduled, using the scene for a profile on the death penalty in America.

ANNE WIDMANN: Arkansas has a lot of - I mean the nature is beautiful. The people are friendly. We think we had a good time in Little Rock. Now I would say that Pine Bluff is kind of a sad place.

AMPEZZAN: In addition to Widmann, there are reporters here from France, Sweden, England and Canada. Widmann says Europeans are talking about the Arkansas governor's decision to execute so many people in such a short timeframe, originally eight in a week and a half, because one of the state's lethal injection drugs is about to expire.

WIDMANN: Nobody ever hears about Arkansas in Switzerland, but we heard about Arkansas. We even had cartoonists - literal cartoonists making cartoons out of it.

AMPEZZAN: Ed Pilkington writes for The Guardian newspaper in London. He says it's an international story, what's happening in Arkansas.

ED PILKINGTON: You say to the world you're intending to execute up to eight prisoners in 11 days, and that in itself is just an astonishing statement which - it's no surprise to me at all that the world sat up and went, wow, why is that? How are you going to do it, and how are you going to do it without botching it?

AMPEZZAN: But it does surprise Sandra Johansson with Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet. Sweden doesn't have capital punishment. Johansson says most people in her country don't think the death penalty is fair.

SANDRA JOHANSSON: This is a very small city, and it's not a city that maybe usually get attention from Swedish journalists or France journalists. So you could really tell that this execution is something - it's something special.

AMPEZZAN: In Great Britain, the Guardian's Pilkington says the planned executions have led to outrage in his country.

PILKINGTON: In America, there's a certain sort of almost familiarity. Oh, yeah, we're going through this yet again. In Britain, invariably there is extreme anger.

AMPEZZAN: Pilkington says that's why capital punishment was abolished there decades ago, and there's no sign of it coming back. For NPR News, I'm Bobby Ampezzan in Grady, Ark.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWZ SONG, "HOLDING YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Ampezzan
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