Arkansas judge blocks executions

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Arkansas' goal of executing seven inmates in 11 days before its supply of lethal injection drugs expires may be a dead plan walking after two court rulings Friday. Arkansas was prepared to execute two of the inmates by lethal injection early next week.

Four companies have publicly raised concerns about how the Arkansas Department of Correction came to stockpile the drugs for its lethal injection cocktail - midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - but only McKesson Corp. made an explicit allegation of deception.

Judge Wendell Griffen granted the temporary restraining order, based on the company's allegations that ADC misled a sales representative to acquire the drug in violation of the company's policy barring sale of drugs for use in lethal injections. "After hearing the evidence. the court is compelled to stay these executions", she said. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, no state has ever put as many inmates to death in as short a period. Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution.

Judge Griffen said he needed time to study a request from drug distributor McKesson Corporation for the drug's use to be banned in state executions.

Ward's is the second of the eight scheduled executions to have been called off since Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) set the dates. The state is expected to appeal the decision. She said the prisoners were entitled to challenge the execution method on grounds it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain". "Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed".

He says that despite the compressed execution schedule, the inmates have in some cases already received "decades of review".

In her order Saturday, Baker cited troubled lengthy executions in Alabama, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma that used the sedative midazolam.

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas would appeal the ruling, adding, "It is unfortunate that a USA district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice".

Rutledge notes that Griffen attended two anti-death penalty rallies Friday in Little Rock, including one outside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion where he "lay strapped down on a cot to simulate the experience of a condemned prisoner on a gurney".

Under Arkansas state law, the parole board must take at least 30 days before sending the recommendation to the governor, which meant officials would be unable to execute that inmate during the period before the lethal drug expires, according to Julie Vandiver, an assistant federal public defender in Little Rock and one of the attorneys representing McGehee and other death-row inmates.

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said Griffen should not have heard the case at all.

If Ward's stay remains in place and he is not executed this month, Arkansas would be looking at executing six inmates in 11 days - no longer an unprecedented time-frame, but one that has not been seen in this country in almost two decades. The state said it would return the drug, McKesson said, and the company issued a refund, but the drug was never returned. A supplier of the drug accused Arkansas of misleadingly obtaining the product, saying it wasn't sold to be used for executions.

The first of the six remaining executions is still scheduled for Monday evening.

The lawsuit is among a flurry of challenges the inmates have filed to halt the executions.