At first glance, the documents the retiree had spread out on a table in Tucson looked as if they could have been keepsakes from just about anyone’s career: a company magazine, a timeline, letters of commendation and congratulation.

But Armin Walser had one item, elegantly printed and secure in a handsome folder, that was particularly uncommon: a certificate citing the work that led to his discovery of midazolam, a drug that became one of the most popular sedatives in the world.

Midazolam is not new; Dr. Walser helped invent it in the 1970s. But after the State of Arkansas announced plans to execute eight prisoners over 10 days in April, it became a subject of fresh reporting that led to a front-page article on March 14. Although Arkansas says little about executions, officials in Little Rock were candid about the rationale behind the scheduling: The state’s supply of midazolam, one of the drugs that it needs to carry out the executions, will expire at the end of April.

After Arkansas’s announcement of an execution schedule that death penalty researchers said was without equal in the modern history of capital punishment in the United States, a brainstorming session among reporters who cover the South for The Times led to an idea for an article that would focus on the drug as a central character. The idea held immediate appeal for reporters in Atlanta and editors in New York: An article would require a new line of investigation about how a common drug was again going to be used for lethal injections. It was an…