Federal Judge Halts Executions in Arkansas

She said the condemned prisoners had the right under the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution - which bans "cruel and unusual punishment" - to challenge the state's plans to put them to death by lethal injection with a controversial three-drug cocktail. "It's something that is put in your lap as the result of 25 years of litigation action and it's here for me, " he said.

The company has said it sold the drug to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

The company said it wants to dismiss the lawsuit it had filed against the state over its use of vecuronium bromide sold by the company that was expected to be used in the upcoming executions.

During four days of hearings that lasted into the evening last week, anesthesiologists testified in Baker's court that midazolam does not block pain; that the second drug meant to stop the person from breathing can leave him gasping for breath; and that the third drug meant to stop the person's heart from beating can produce burning pain.

The filing is among a flurry of lawsuits in state and federal courts aimed at halting the executions.

In her ruling, however, Baker did not accept all of the inmates' claims. FILE - This 2013 file photo provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows Don William Davis, who has been scheduled for execution Monday, April 17, 2017.

The prisoners' lawyers say the midazolam would not prevent the inmates from feeling excruciating pain as their lungs and heart shut down.

If something were to go wrong, the prisoner's attorney would have to leave the prisoner without counsel as the lawyer rushed to get to a phone to call a court to intervene, Baker wrote, which could infringe on the prisoner's constitutional rights to counsel. It's one of the three drugs used in the lethal injection process.

After word of Judge Griffen's protest, the Attorney General's office immediately filed an appeal to the State Supreme Court, claiming Judge Griffen's decision was biased.

Lawyers for the inmates challenged the use of midazolam, which was involved in flawed executions elsewhere, as well as the shortened timeframe.

On Saturday afternoon, Rutledge's office appealed Baker's decision to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

McKesson contends that Arkansas penal authorities purchased the vecuronium bromide, which causes paralysis, without warning that it would be used to put inmates to death.

No other state has executed that many people so quickly since the US Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976, and it has thrust Hutchinson and his solidly Republican state into the center of the debate over capital punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court could be asked to tackle a number of questions before the end of the day and, depending on those answers, Ward could walk to the death chamber at Varner for a 7 p.m. execution.

A representative for the McKesson company could not be reached Saturday.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) raised the issue of Griffen's protest in a motion to have his temporary restraining order thrown out and him removed from the case.

And, she said, the judge went to another protest after he issued the TRO.

A former warden of Florida State Prison said his own mental health had begun to deteriorate by the time he left his position in 1998 after taking part in eight executions. "And so we honor the oath, but we don't lose our humanity", Judge Griffen said. "(D) elaying Appellees' executions by even a few days - until Arkansas's supply of midazolam expires - will make it impossible for Arkansas to carry out Appellees' just and lawful sentences". They held a rally outside the state Capitol on Friday. Governor Asa Hutchinson had a muted response after Judge Baker's ruling Saturday morning.

On social media, death penalty proponents reacted vehemently to the court rulings. But as he prepares to run for re-election, there likely will be little political fallout from Hutchinson's aggressive push for executions, as the death penalty remains popular in his state. He made great pains to sympathize with the families of the victims.

Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate in more than 11 years because of drug shortages and legal challenges.

  • Leroy Wright