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Arkansas prepping for lethal injections despite halt from courts

18 April 2017

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted the executions of two men originally scheduled to be put to death Monday night, putting another legal roadblock in place in Arkansas' plan to conduct eight executions before the end of April.

Bruce Earl Ward and Don William Davis Jr. had been slated to die Monday (17 April) night, the first of four double executions for an 11-day period.

The inmates' attorneys argued that their clients were denied access to independent mental health experts, saying Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability.

Arkansas' state attorney general Leslie Rutledge has appealed against the court decision saying: "We do have a number of pieces of litigation that we are working (on)".

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court also barred a state judge who blocked the multiple execution plan from taking up any death penalty related cases after he participated in a protest where he appeared to mimic a death row inmate about to receive a lethal injection.

US District Judge Kristine Baker granted the inmates stays of execution on Saturday, but she rejected their arguments that too little time between executions violated their constitutional rights.

Since 1977, when capital punishment resumed in the United States following a Supreme Court review, no state, not even Texas with its execution enthusiasts, has carried out so many death sentences in such a short span.

In her order, Baker said there was a significant possibility that the inmates could successfully challenge the state's execution protocol.

"If we don't carry out the executions scheduled for [today], we will wait to hear from the governor's office as to what our next steps will be", Graves said. Rutledge said the state court's ruling was based "on a misinterpretation of federal law". Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued the order in response to McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. filing a request that the court prohibit the use of Vercurium Bromide, one of the three drugs used in the execution protocol in Arkansas.

Baker granted a temporary injunction for all eight inmates, halting their executions on grounds including that the state's protocols violate USA constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

"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.

Baker didn't rule fully in the inmates' favor.

Lawyers for the state appealed against the judge's ruling immediately with the hope of beginning the executions today.

"The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern", she wrote.

This followed Friday's legal developments including a temporary restraining order issued on the drugs used during the executions. They noted that Oklahoma began requiring a week between single executions after flaws were uncovered after Clayton Lockett's death during a midazolam execution in 2014. The prisoners' attorneys on Sunday appealed those dismissals to the 8th Circuit. This photo provided by Sherry Simon shows Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part of an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion Friday, April 14, 2017 in Little Rock, Ark. Rutledge's office on Saturday filed an emergency appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge did not say where she would seek a review, but she could ask either the Arkansas Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court for one.

In an order issued Sunday night, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey of the Western District of Arkansas denied separate motions filed Wednesday by Davis' attorneys for relief of judgment and a stay of his execution.