Federal judge halts the lethal injections of 9 inmates

A US judge in Little Rock on Saturday temporarily blocked plans by Arkansas to hold a rapid series of executions this month, after the inmates argued the state's rush to the death chamber was unconstitutional and reckless.

A federal judge in Arkansas issued an injunction Saturday halting the execution by lethal injection of nine inmates.

State officials challenged one order Saturday and vowed to fight the other. No state has executed so many men so quickly in the last four decades, Robert Dunham from the Death Penalty Information Center told the NewsHour.

Arkansas, which hasn't put anyone to death since 2005 due to legal challenges and difficulty getting execution drugs, plans to use three drugs to kill the inmates, including two that are typically used in surgery and one that benefits cardiac patients. Arkansas has said this scheduled is needed because one of its lethal drugs will expire at the end of the month.

In her ruling, she argued that the state's reliance on the execution drug midazolam threatens the plaintiffs constitutional rights. The court had issued the stay on Friday.

Arkansas' attorney general is asking the state's highest court to vacate a judge's ruling that blocks the state from using one of its lethal injection drugs.

The state prison system "never disclosed its intended goal to us for these products", a lawyer for McKesson, Ethan M. Posner, wrote in a letter obtained by The New York Times. Ward is one of seven men that Arkansas meant to execute by lethal injection over 11 days beginning on Monday, before its batch of one drug used in the executions expires. All of the inmates were convicted of capital murder and sentenced by the year 2000.

The eight inmates originally scheduled to be executed in Arkansas this month.

"The court finds that plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction based on their method of execution claim under the Eighth Amendment", she wrote in her ruling. Arkansas's attorneys countered that the lawsuit was a delay tactic. The supplier of the drug argued the medication wasn't supposed to be used for capital punishment.

Other companies also weighed in.

Critics have contended that the drug does not achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery, making it unsuitable for executions. Pfizer said it had twice asked Arkansas to return the drugs and had considered legal action.

McKesson, a medical supply company, has said it sold the prison system vecuronium bromide believing it would be used for medical purposes. The company said it was reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but the drug was never returned. By Friday night, the company had persuaded Griffen to intervene. Two manufacturers filed court papers yesterday saying that the state had gone outside approved channels to obtain midazolam, a sedative, and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Griffen wrote that McKesson would suffer "loss of property and forced participation in a procedure that is likely to cause reputational injury" if he did not act. Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate in eleven years, in part because of problems it has had with the injection drug, the Associated Press reported.

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.

Earlier Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court also blocked the execution of Bruce Ward.

A federal case recently stayed the execution of Jason McGehee, who was set to die before Williams on April 27. That same evening, Griffen agreed and issued the temporary restraining order.

Rutledge filed an emergency petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court on Saturday seeking to overturn Griffen's order.

  • Leroy Wright