Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

Federal judge in Arkansas blocks series of executions

If Arkansas had proceeded with its original plan to execute eight inmates in double executions on four days, it would have been the most people put to death by a state in that timeframe since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976.

"At this juncture, plaintiffs have failed to present a persuasive case for the proposition that source knowledge is necessary to mount a meaningful, much less comprehensive, challenge to Ohio's execution protocol", U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost wrote in his 2015 ruling upholding Ohio's drug secrecy efforts.

While lethal injection has been regarded as a humane way to perform executions, midazolam has in recent years failed to keep inmates unconscious, resulting in immensely prolonged, painful deaths.

Arkansas appealed in those cases and also hoped to dissolve a separate stay for Ward that had been issued by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The state's Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, had argued that the executions - which would have been the state's first since 2005 - had to be rushed through because one of the drugs used in lethal injections was due to expire.

The state's mixture of drugs used in executions has brought legal challenges.

She also declined to block the executions on the basis of the prisoners' contention that Arkansas' lethal injection protocol goes against the country's evolving standards of decency. She said that while the state demonstrated it does not plan to torture the inmates, the inmates had a right to challenge the method of execution in an attempt to show it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain". Attorneys for the inmates said no state has attempted to conduct executions at the pace proposed by Arkansas in at least half a century.

The lawyers said it was wrong for Baker to write that the inmates "did not establish a significant possibility of success on the merits on their claim that the compressed execution schedule is contrary to the evolving standards of decency". Midazolam is not the only drug facing criticism, however, as the McKesson Corporation has sought return [press release] of the drug vecuronium bromide, one of its drugs used in the process.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

The director of the Arkansas Department of Correction, Wendy Kelley, testified this week that Arkansas was not charged for its current supply of potassium chloride. "After hearing the evidence. the court is compelled to stay these executions".

The state originally planned to execute eight inmates, but two had previously been blocked by state and federal courts.

The petition also alleged that the judge wrote in a blog post earlier this month that "Arkansas officials plan to commit a series of homicides".

Ward was one of two inmates set to die Monday.

The governor went into considerable detail about the gruesome murders behind some inmates' death sentences, saying victims' families were being forgotten. "This decision is significantly out of step with precedent from the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court". Strapping himself to a gurney - Griffen imitated the lethal injection executions.

Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge on Saturday asked the state's highest court to vacate Griffen's ruling and asked for a new judge to be assigned the case. The European Union issued a statement strongly opposing the plan, and anti-death penalty protests have grown in front of the Arkansas capitol in Little Rock.

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