Arkansas judge again demonstrates against death penalty

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In this Tuesday, April 17, 2018 image from video provided by KTHV-TV, a death penalty protester outside the Arkansas governor’s mansion in Little Rock prepares to tie rope around Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. The protesters were marking one year since Arkansas conducted a series of executions. Griffen protested in a similar fashion last year and the state Supreme Court responded by declaring him ineligible to hear death penalty cases. Griffen has since filed a lawsuit against the state’s justices, saying they are violating his religious freedom rights. (KTHV/TEGNA Inc. via AP)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas judge who’s been prohibited from hearing execution-related cases lay down on a cot in front of the governor’s mansion during an anti-death penalty vigil, re-enacting the demonstration that prompted his disqualification last year.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen lay tied to the cot Tuesday night during a demonstration by death penalty opponents marking the one-year anniversary of Arkansas executing four inmates over an eight-day period. When asked why he participated in the vigil, Griffen responded, “we are still killing,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Griffen wore a button that read, “End the Death Penalty.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court last year disqualified Griffen from handling any death penalty cases after he did the same thing on the day he issued an order preventing Arkansas from using one of its executions drugs. Though the scene evoked images of an inmate awaiting lethal injection, Griffen has said he was portraying Jesus. Griffen has sued the state Supreme Court justices over his disqualification, saying it violates his constitutional rights. On Wednesday, he defended his participation in the latest vigil.

“I am as committed now to the rule of law and my First Amendment right to hold and express my moral and religious opposition to the death penalty as I was a year ago,” Griffen said in a statement released by his attorney. “If anything, my resolve and hope are stronger than ever.”

The latest demonstration prompted some Republican lawmakers to renew their calls for Griffen’s impeachment.

“We’re going to impeach him. It’s going to happen. It needs to happen,” Republican state Sen. Trent Garner said.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said he hasn’t talked with any members about initiating impeachment proceedings against Griffen. Articles of impeachment would need to be co-sponsored by at least 34 House members for the impeachment process to begin in that chamber.

Griffen’s attorney criticized Garner’s demands for the judge’s impeachment, saying they demonstrated an ignorance of the U.S. Constitution and the impeachment process.

“Regardless, it is quite remarkable that Judge Griffen is being threatened with impeachment, especially given all the historical and recent unlawful conduct of white judges, against whom such threats were never made. We think this absolutely supports our case,” attorney Mike Laux said.

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