Arkansas Pushes To Carry Out Executions, Fighting Court Rulings And The Clock


Judge Baker embraced arguments by the eight prisoners whose executions had been scheduled, plus one other death row inmate, that the state's reliance on midazolam, as an execution drug posed a risk to their constitutional rights.

The inmates' attorneys argued that their clients were denied access to independent mental health experts, saying Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability.

Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said the office still holds the option to appeal the McGehee decision.

The state, which has not carried out a death sentence in 12 years, had originally wanted to execute eight inmates between today and April 27.

A state judge in Arkansas who barred the state from using one of its execution drugs has been removed from hearing capital cases after participating in death-penalty protests.

The state's highest court has not acted on a request that it lift a reprieve granted to one condemned man scheduled to die Monday night.

He was previously scheduled to die tonight, along with Death Row Inmate Don Davis.

A new warrant could trigger another clemency hearing, which carries a built-in timeline that would extend beyond this month, Ward's attorneys said Friday. "We are calling on state officials to accept the federal court's decision, cancel the frantic execution schedule, and propose a legal and humane method to carry out its executions".

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

The planned executions - which would be the most carried out in a such a short time since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976 - have prompted widespread protests. Rutledge said the state court's ruling was based "on a misinterpretation of federal law".

"The current schedule does not conform to the standards followed in a civilized society", they wrote.

Baker granted a temporary injunction for all eight inmates, halting their executions on grounds including that the state's protocols violate US constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Deere said he did not "want to speculate" on what action Rutledge's office would take if the appellate court upholds Baker's ruling.

Arkansas' difficulty in obtaining those drugs has come into focus in the past few days as three pharmaceutical companies claimed the state improperly obtained their products and sought to block their use in executions.

Federal judges based in other states have taken up the same question - most recently an OH judge granted a similar injunction that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld on April 6. "We continue to call on Governor Hutchinson to use his executive authority to permanently stop this assembly line of death", said James Clark, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA.

But Judge Wendell Griffen, an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, issued an order blocking the state from using a second drug, vecuronium bromide, after a petition from its maker, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. This photo provided by Sherry Simon shows Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part of an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion Friday, April 14, 2017 in Little Rock, Ark.

If it fails there, it can appeal to the US Supreme Court. Rutledge's office on Saturday filed an emergency appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court. She said the relatives of victims have waited for years to see executions, but, "by this order, that day is delayed again".

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

Information for this article was contributed by The Associated Press. The state Supreme Court issued a stay for another of the inmates on Friday so that his mental health could be assessed.