Judge halts Arkansas plan to execute 8 inmates in 11 days

Court blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker halted Arkansas' plan to execute seven inmates before the end of the month, granting an injunction requested by the inmates on Saturday to block the executions.

The order came the same day justices issued a stay for Bruce Ward, who was scheduled to be put to death on Monday night for the 1989 death of a woman found strangled in the men's room of the Little Rock convenience store where she worked. In addition to the stays granted two men, an Arkansas circuit court judge, Wendell Griffen of Pulaski County, on Friday issued a temporary restraining order barring authorities from using vecuronium bromide, part of a lethal three-drug cocktail the state meant to use.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

His lawyers have said he is schizophrenic and does not understand what is happening to him.

Like several other states, Arkansas uses a combination of potassium chloride, midazolam, and vecuronium bromide to carry out the executions.

"The rulings today are just part of the process and not unexpected", J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said in a statement.

And he suggested that Arkansas should face no retaliation over his accelerated execution plan because it was hardly at the forefront of states practicing capital punishment. Earlier this month, a federal judge stayed the execution of another inmate because a state parole board said it would recommend changing that inmate's sentence to life in prison without parole. "Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed".

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"Arkansans have shown a consistent commitment to the death penalty, although Arkansas has employed the death penalty less than surrounding states", Barth said. The executions are scheduled to begin Monday, April 17, and run through Thursday, April 27. Baker stated that the use midazolam in executions is likely unconstitutional, citing previous botched executions using midazolam in Alabama, Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma, according to the Associated Press.

McKesson said the Arkansas Department of Corrections "intentionally sought to circumvent McKesson's policies" by claiming that the drug it obtained - vecuronium bromide, a paralytic used in lethal injections - would only be used for medical reasons in a health facility.

Local media outlets had tweeted photos and video of Griffen appearing to mimic an inmate strapped to a gurney at an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion Friday afternoon.

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas would appeal the ruling, adding, "It is unfortunate that a U.S. district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice".

On Saturday morning, the Attorney General's office filed an emergency petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that Griffen be removed from the case and his temporary restraining order be lifted.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also wants to remove the judge from the case after he participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration the day he issued his decision.

States across the U.S. have struggled to carry out executions as they are finding it harder to get hold of supplies of the drugs they need. Earlier, a different federal judge stayed the execution of death row inmate Jason McGehee, leaving six inmates still scheduled to die.

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