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Federal judge blocks executions in Arkansas
16 April 2017, 02:08 | Dan Bryan
Federal judge blocks executions in Arkansas
Arkansas' push to resume executions after almost 12 years with an already compromised plan to put eight men to death over 11 days is in limbo after a judge blocked the use of a lethal injection drug a supplier says officials misleadingly obtained and the state's highest court halted the execution of one of the first inmates who had been scheduled to die.
Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court also blocked the execution of Bruce Ward. Arkansas was prepared to execute two of the inmates by lethal injection early next week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson had scheduled the executions to take place before the state's supply of one of its lethal injection drugs expires at the end of the month.
Judge Griffen issued his ruling to allow time to study a request from drug distributor McKesson Corporation for the use of the anesthetic to be banned in state executions.
Another federal judge and the state Supreme Court had already granted stays to two of the eight inmates, reducing the number of planned executions to six within an 11-day period.
Like several other states, Arkansas uses a combination of potassium chloride, midazolam, and vecuronium bromide to carry out the executions.
The state has said it will appeal against District Judge Kristine Baker's order to grant stays of execution. "A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her execution by showing that the state's method "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain" and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives'".
Drug companies have recently joined the fray, with two manufacturers filing a brief this week arguing that the state had improperly obtained their drugs and planned to use them. The latest ruling from Baker applies to the eight originally scheduled to die, plus one more man whose execution had not yet been scheduled.
In her order Saturday, Baker cited troubled lengthy executions in Alabama, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma that used the sedative midazolam.
Roughly an hour after Judge Griffen issued the temporary restraining order, he could be found lying on a cot in front of the Governor's Mansion protesting against the planned executions.
The Arkansas attorney general's office said the decision strayed from previous cases before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. In a petition to the Arkansas Supreme Court, Ward's attorneys described him as a diagnosed schizophrenic who has spent decades in solitary confinement without treatment for his mental illness and argued that he was not competent to be executed.
"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 for Arkansawyers and their elected representatives", Baker wrote.
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.
"As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case", Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge, said in a statement.
"When I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I knew I couldn't live with myself if I didn't come back and try to do something", Echols said Friday.
The companies did not disclose which of their drugs Arkansas will use during the executions.
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