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Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

19 April 2017
Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

A federal judge Saturday blocked Arkansas' plan to execute six inmates over the course of ten days. A hearing is set for Tuesday.

He went on to say he expected quick answers from both the state and federal appeals courts. 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.

On Friday, Griffen joined the protests outside the Governor's Mansion, simulating an inmate being executed.

There are at least five lawsuits that could prevent Monday's scheduled executions from actually happening. "Judge Griffen's ex parte TRO is an undisguised stay of the upcoming executions".

Hutchinson's plan has drawn worldwide attention. Arkansas's attorneys said the lawsuit was just an attempt to delay.

Arkansas last put someone to death in 2005. But prison officials and state attorneys say waiting now would put the state's death penalty on hold indefinitely.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, had scheduled the executions to take place before the state's supply of midazolam, one of its lethal injection drugs, expires at the end of the month.

The state's drug supply is set to expire at the end of April.

"ADC (the Arkansas Department of Correction) personnel used an existing medical license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical uses, and an irregular ordering process to obtain the vecuronium via phone order with a McKesson salesperson", the brief said.

Midazolam, one of three drugs used in a lethal injection "cocktail." has been criticized for contributing to botched executions in other states.

During four days of hearings that lasted into the evening last week, anesthesiologists testified in Baker's court that midazolam does not block pain; that the second drug meant to stop the person from breathing can leave him gasping for breath; and that the third drug meant to stop the person's heart from beating can produce burning pain.

Attorneys for the seven Arkansas inmates facing lethal injection by the end of the month are asking the state Supreme Court to halt their executions.

In her ruling, however, Baker did not accept all of the inmates' claims. The executions have been scheduled to start Monday night. While she wrote that it was "certainly conceivable" that a rush of executions would be more risky, she concluded that there "is no way to determine what level of stress makes the risk of mistake "objectively intolerable'". Arkansas originally planned to execute eight inmates between Monday and April 27 and is appealing the ruling. Rutledge also filed another appeal challenging a ruling that stayed inmate Bruce Ward's execution on the grounds of mental disability. A state judge earlier Friday blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug, a move that could also halt the executions altogether.

Lawyers for the inmates challenged the use of midazolam, which was involved in flawed executions elsewhere, as well as the shortened timeframe.

Rutledge and her staff reportedly worked all day Saturday to file appeals to recent decisions.

That judge, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, has come under fire for taking part in anti-death penalty protests the same day after issuing his order stopping the use of the drug. Baker, dealt another blow Saturday, April 15, 2017, to Arkansas' unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in an 11-day period, saying the men have the right to challenge a drug protocol that could expose them to "severe pain". He ran twice unsuccessfully for state Supreme Court - including a bid for chief justice in 2004.

A representative for the McKesson company could not be reached Saturday.

Lawyers for the death-row inmates had argued that the accelerated schedule did not give them enough time to prepare their appeals. "However, the last minute court reviews are all part of the hard process of death penalty cases".

"I understand how hard this is on the victims' families, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the continued court review; however, the last minute court reviews are all part of the hard process of death penalty cases", Hutchinson said in a statement. An employee inside the building said it likely had to do with Arkansas executions and Griffen's temporary restraining order.

"While everyone is happy with the ruling, Judge Baker's, we know that it's not over", Short said.

While regular church services were planned for the holiday, many residents in the capital had been also expecting to attend a special vigil for the condemned later Sunday evening at Little Rock's Trinity Cathedral - which was supposed conclude with a march to the governor's mansion.

The families of the victims "waited decades to receive some closure for their pain", Baker noted. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted late Friday. Former Arkansas death row inmate Damien Echols talks with the media before speaking at a rally opposing Arkansas' upcoming executions, which are set to begin next week, on the front steps of.