Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

A USA federal judge on Saturday blocked a plan by the southern state of Arkansas to execute a series of inmates there over a 10-day period this month, citing a constitutional amendment banning "cruel and unusual punishment".

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed an appeal of the ruling on Saturday night with the 8th Circuit Court, which has already ruled on similar cases previously and allowed the executions to go forward.

Executions in the U.S. have fallen steadily for years, hitting their lowest level in 2016 - partly because the drugs used in lethal injection have become so hard to obtain.

"We have worked round the clock for the last couple of weeks and particularly in the last couple of days, as judges have made decisions and court cases have been filed in these pieces of litigation, to ensure again that justice is carried out for these families of the victims", Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge told Little Rock NBC-affiliate KARK.

Attorneys for the seven Arkansas inmates facing lethal injection by the end of the month are asking the state Supreme Court to halt their executions.

In her order, Baker said there was a significant possibility that the inmates could successfully challenge the state's execution protocol. The lawsuit is among a flurry of challenges the inmates have filed to halt the executions. The order stopped the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three execution drugs. Griffen granted the order after McKesson Medical-Surgical, which does not want its product used in executions, petitioned to stop the state on the grounds that the drug had been misleadingly obtained.

Baker's ruling prompted McKesson Corp., a medical supply company, to ask Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen to vacate his Friday order blocking the executions over the company's claims the vecuronium bromide was sold to the state for medical purposes, not lethal injection.

"The unnecessarily compressed execution schedule using the risky drug midazolam denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture", he said in a statement. Griffen scheduled a hearing Tuesday, the day after the first execution was scheduled.

But the church suspended that service after Federal Judge Kristine Baker ordered a temporary injunction on the executions Saturday, effectively blocking them.

McKesson said it's considering legal action to get the drug back.

"The court is mindful of the fact that the state of Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, despite consistent support for capital punishment for Arkansawyers and their elected representatives", Baker wrote.

FILE- In this January 4, 2017, file photo Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to members of the press during a Q&A session in Little Rock, Ark. Two other pharmaceutical companies have asked a judge to prohibit Arkansas from using their drugs in the upcoming multiple executions. "This decision is significantly out of step with precedent from the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court". The Arkansas Parole Board had earlier voted to recommend that McGehee's death sentence be commuted to life without parole, and the judge ruled McGehee's April 27 execution date would not have given the board enough time, as required by law, to notify the governor of its recommendation. Governor Asa Hutchinson had a muted response after Judge Baker's ruling Saturday morning. Baker's order comes a day after Arkansas state judge Wendell Griffen issued a broad temporary restraining order [text] in favor of the prisoners. Two others won stays of execution from state courts, leaving six of the original petitioners now in line for their executions to be carried out. A state judge earlier Friday blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug, a move that could also halt the executions altogether. DeMillo reported from Little Rock.

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