Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

Posted April 18, 2017

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.

Arkansas and at least a dozen other states with the death penalty have been keeping secret how and where they are getting the lethal drugs for their death chambers - information that had always been publicly available. The company, along with other pharmaceutical makers, objects to its drug being used in executions.

Arkansas is making preparations for a series of executions that, as of late morning Monday, it is legally barred from carrying out.

He wrote that Ward and Davis have had "decades of appeals" and that the victims' families deserved closure. If court proceedings are pushed into May, Arkansas won't be able to carry out the executions with the drugs it has on hand.

Justices granted the stays Monday afternoon for Don Davis and Bruce Ward.

The state was prepared to execute the men in an 11-day span starting Monday, a move that drew rebuke from death penalty opponents who said it was cruel and unusual punishment, and increased the likelihood of a botched execution.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted the execution of Ward, one of two inmates facing lethal injection Monday under the state's multiple execution plan. Davis had filed his own legal challenges about his mental competencies - his lawyer said Davis has an IQ of 70 - but a federal judge rejected his stay request on Easter Sunday.

The state has appealed both rulings and asked the higher courts to work quickly to review the decisions.

That decision "stirred a wave of consternation and threats on social media from state lawmakers and conservatives", member station KUAR noted on Saturday - because shortly before the decision, the judge was photographed protesting the death penalty at the gates of the Governor's Mansion.

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Critics of the execution plan say midazolam, a sedative that is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts, is unsuitable because it is not a painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the United States constitution.

A federal judge on Saturday temporarily blocked plans by the state to push through the executions, claiming that Arkansas' rush to execute is reckless and unconstitutional.

Griffen did not immediately return a message Monday seeking his reaction to the high court's order. The attorney general's office has said it will appeal those decisions.

Prison systems in the United States first used the sedative for executions in 2013. He ran twice unsuccessfully for state Supreme Court - including a bid for chief justice in 2004.

On Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court halted Ward's execution after lawyers for the inmate argued he was mentally incompetent.

The 8th Circuit could take up the appeal of Baker's order at any time.

John C. Williams, Assistant Federal Public Defender and attorney for some of the death row prisoners stated: "The unnecessarily compressed execution schedule using the risky drug midazolam denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture".

The court found that the evidence did not show the state's protocol for executing prisoners is very likely to "cause severe pain and needless suffering".

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson set the execution dates in February after Rutledge determined that the eight men had exhausted their legal challenges.