Judge halts Arkansas plan to execute inmates by end of month

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker released her decision Saturday morning, concluding: "The Court finds that plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction based on their method of execution claim under the Eighth Amendment".

Defense lawyers argued that midazolam - the drug used to render inmates unconscious before they are given two more drugs that paralyze and kill them - does not effectively keep those being executed from experiencing a painful death.The second drug, pancuronium bromide, paralyzes the inmate.

Arkansas set such a crammed execution schedule because its supply of one of its three execution drugs, midazolam, expires at the end of the month. Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005. In addition to the stays granted two men, an Arkansas circuit court judge, Wendell Griffen of Pulaski County, on Friday issued a temporary restraining order barring authorities from using vecuronium bromide, part of a lethal three-drug cocktail the state meant to use.

Arkansas had scheduled the fast-paced series of executions in order to beat the expiration date on its batch of one of the three drugs used in its lethal injection cocktail. Attorneys for the inmates said no state has attempted to conduct executions at the pace proposed by Arkansas in at least half a century. A media advocacy group and the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday asked Missouri's highest court to settle whether the state's prison system must reveal its execution drugs. He's been on death row since 1990 for strangling a woman in a convenience store bathroom, CNN affiliate KARK-TV in Little Rock reported.

"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 company said it was reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but the drug was never returned.

Death-penalty opponents are gathered on the front steps of Arkansas' Capitol to protest the state's plan to execute seven inmates before the end of the month.

Critics of the execution timetable have blasted it as an "assembly line" and "conveyer belt", while Mr. Hutchinson has insisted that the state is well equipped to handle the schedule. "Attorney General Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible".

Ward was scheduled to be executed on Monday evening in the second of two executions that night.

A lethal injection remains the US' primary method of execution, but due to the shortage, states have also been looking to other methods.

State courts have also upheld secrecy laws in Arkansas, Georgia and Oklahoma, and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Arizona's drug secrecy in a 2014 case.

"The Arkansas Department of Correction intentionally sought to circumvent McKesson's policies to procure Pfizer's vecuronium bromide under the auspices that it would be used for medical purposes in ADC's health facility", McKesson said in its statement.

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

Drug distributor McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. argued vecuronium bromide was intended only for medical purposes, not executions, and that the Arkansas Department of Correction "misled" the company when it purchased the drug, according to a court brief.

A federal judge has blocked Arkansas from executing six men in 11 days, which was scheduled to start the day after Easter Sunday.

  • Larry Hoffman