Arkansas plan to execute eight inmates halted by United States judge

Court blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug

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Arkansas' goal of executing seven inmates in 11 days before its supply of lethal injection drugs expires may be a dead plan walking after two court rulings Friday. 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. The eight are scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas, beginning April 17, 2017. In addition to the stays granted two men, an Arkansas circuit court judge, Wendell Griffen of Pulaski County, on Friday issued a temporary restraining order barring authorities from using vecuronium bromide, part of a lethal three-drug cocktail the state meant to use.

The drug's maker, McKesson Medical Surgical, said it had been misled by the state. "After hearing the evidence ... the court is compelled to stay these executions", she said.

If Arkansas did execute eight inmates before the end of the month, it would be the most executions in such a short period of time since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution.

The judge ruled that the executions should be delayed as there was a significant possibility the inmates involved could successfully challenge the state's plans.

Earlier Friday, the nation's largest pharmaceutical distributor went to court to argue that the state had purchased the drug using a false pretense. She said the inmates were entitled to challenge the execution process on the grounds it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain".

The attorney general was evaluating how to proceed in Ward's case, a spokesman said in a statement.

"Arkansans have shown a consistent commitment to the death penalty, although Arkansas has employed the death penalty less than surrounding states", Barth said.

He says that despite the compressed execution schedule, the inmates have in some cases already received "decades of review".

But a spokesperson for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the state will appeal against the ruling.

McKesson said: "The imminent danger that defendants (the state) would use McKesson's property and be unable to return it has been addressed by the federal court's preliminary injunction order".

Rutledge notes that Griffen attended two anti-death penalty rallies Friday in Little Rock, including one outside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion where he "lay strapped down on a cot to simulate the experience of a condemned prisoner on a gurney".

On Saturday morning, the Attorney General's office filed an emergency petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that Griffen be removed from the case and his temporary restraining order be lifted.

"When I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I knew I couldn't live with myself if I didn't come back and try to do something", Echols said Friday.

The state initially planned to execute eight inmates, but in the past two weeks, stays were issued for two of the men.

Ward is also one of several inmates participating in a federal lawsuit seeking to have the executions stayed by declaring the execution schedule - and the planned lethal-injection procedure - unconstitutional.

"Without the medical license, and the associated tacit representation that the controlled drug would only be used for a legitimate medical objective, McKesson would not have sold the vecuronium to ADC", the company said in its lawsuit.

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