Arkansas plan to execute 8 inmates in 11 days halted by judge

Court blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug

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Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday preventing Arkansas from using the drug vecuronium bromide "until ordered otherwise by this Court,"according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, after the supplier told the court it was not sold to the state for executions".

This combination of file photos provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows death-row inmates Bruce Earl Ward, left, and Don William Davis. Three years ago in Oklahoma, an attempt to execute two inmates on the same April day was thwarted after the first prisoner writhed and moaned on the gurney in a lethal injection the corrections chief tried to halt before the inmate's death 43 minutes later.

Two judges issued separate orders temporarily blocking Arkansas from carrying out a series of executions scheduled to begin next week, throwing into question whether the state would be able to carry out some or any of the lethal injections as planned.

Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. filed a friend of the court brief objecting to their drugs' use in the executions.

But the state prison system "never disclosed its intended objective to us for these products", a lawyer for McKesson, Ethan M. Posner, wrote in a letter obtained by The New York Times.

The Democrat-Gazette cites Baker as writing, "there is a significant possibility that plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their Eighth Amendment challenge to Arkansas's lethal injection protocol".

The 60-year-old was convicted of murdering a female convenience store worker and was sentenced to death 17 years ago.

The U.S. judge has yet to issue a ruling on the broader case.

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.

John C. Williams, an assistant federal public defender representing some of the inmates, praised Baker's ruling and said the execution plans in Arkansas "denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture".

"This expiration date is directly linked to the state's urgency to execute eight men in ten days", said the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in a statement.

"One of the three drugs in the lethal injection protocol expires at the end of April", Hutchinson said in a statement emailed to NPR last month.

The state's attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, plans to appeal the judge's ruling.

Arkansas' bid to execute the inmates in such a short space of time has drawn condemnation from hundreds of death penalty opponents who rallied at the Capitol on Friday waving signs including a large banner that read: "We remember the victims".

She ruled that the accelerated time-scale involved did not give the inmates sufficient time to prepare their appeals.

Arkansas hasn't put anyone to death for over a decade.

"The court is mindful of the fact that the state of Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, despite consistent support for capital punishment from Arkansawyers and their elected representatives".

"Despite the confidentiality provisions, it is still very hard to find a supplier willing to sell drugs to (the state) for use in lethal-injection executions", state Correction Department Director Wendy Kelley said in a court affidavit this month. Pharmaceutical companies don't want their drugs used in the upcoming executions.

Critics say that midazolam, a sedative meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs are used to stop the heart, does not always work.

The Arkansas Supreme Court had earlier granted a temporary reprieve to one of the prisoners, who suffers from mental problems.

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