Arkansas still faces legal hurdles in execution plan

The state had set the expedited schedule because one of the drugs in its difficult-to-obtain lethal injection mix, the sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April.

The drug has been used in flawed executions in Oklahoma and Arizona.

The state's highest court also referred Griffen to the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to consider whether he violated the code of conduct for judges.

The scheduled executions of two Arkansas death row inmates were halted after that state's Supreme Court granted stays Monday afternoon, effectively delaying the state's plan to execute the men by lethal injection before supplies of a key drug expire.

The eight inmates also asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay until the high court rules on their request to reconsider whether to weigh in a state court decision upholding Arkansas' lethal injection law.

Inmates argued that the use of the sedative midazolam risked inflicting severe pain on the inmates over concerns that the drug would not render inmates unconscious before the second and third drugs, a paralytic and the heart-stopping potassium chloride, are administered. "We find it necessary to immediately reassign all cases in the Fifth Division that involve the death penalty or the state's execution protocol, whether civil or criminal".

But after issuing the order, Griffen allowed himself to be strapped to a cot during a protest to simulate an inmate being injected.

The legal fight in Arkansas, which last put someone to death 12 years ago, came after the number of US executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016 and as capital punishment in several states was stymied by problems with lethal-injection drugs and legal questions over their protocols.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to vacate the Arkansas Supreme Court decision in reference to Don Davis".

On Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court halted Ward's execution after lawyers for the inmate argued he was mentally incompetent.

The state was still moving forward with plans to conduct the Monday night executions in the event that all stays were lifted, with Davis being served his last meal of fried chicken, rolls, beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake.

Griffen, 64, is a Baptist minister who was first elected as Pulaski County judge in 2010.

A separate federal court ruling has halted all of the executions.

A different federal judge has issued a stay for an inmate who won a clemency recommendation from the state's Parole Board, while the state Supreme Court has issued one for another inmate pending more mental health tests.

"The question in McWilliams is whether the Court's 1985 ruling in Ake v. Oklahoma clearly established that an indigent defendant is entitled to meaningful assistance from an expert who is independent of the prosecution", Scott Braden, an attorney for Ward and Davis, said in a statement sent to Reason.

Drugmaker McKesson Medical-Surgical sought the order to prevent the state from using the drug after learning the corrections department had obtained it for executions, which the company doesn't permit.

Ward's attorneys say he's a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution.

"Immediate reversal is warranted", Arkansas' solicitor general, Lee Rudofsky, wrote Saturday in the state's appeal to the St. Louis-based 8th Circuit.

The death row inmates scheduled for execution are all men - four are black, three are white and all were convicted of murder.

  • Larry Hoffman