Arkansas prepping for lethal injections despite halt from courts

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday also barred a state judge who blocked the multiple execution plan from taking up any death penalty related cases after he participated in a protest where he appeared to mimic a death row inmate about to receive lethal injection.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says she's evaluating options on how to proceed. The court had issued the stay on Friday.

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. In a petition to that court, Ward's attorneys described him as a diagnosed schizophrenic who has spent decades in solitary confinement without treatment for his mental illness and argued that he was not competent to be executed. A federal judge has also stayed the executions on different grounds, and the state has appealed that ruling.

McKesson, the drug wholesaler that sold the vecuronium bromide to Arkansas DOC, refunded the money to the state and issued a restraining order against the DOC from using the drug in lethal injections.

Judge Kristine Baker of Federal District Court in Little Rock, AK, on Saturday blocked Arkansas from carrying out up to seven executions this month.

Arkansas wants to rush executions so it can use the drug Midazolam before it expires.

The state was prepared to execute the men in an 11-day span starting Monday, a move that drew rebuke from death penalty opponents who said it was cruel and unusual punishment, and increased the likelihood of a botched execution. Only Texas has executed six inmates in less time. The federal judge, however, provided officials with an opportunity to address her concerns at a hearing on Monday.

The prisoners' lawyers say the midazolam would not prevent the inmates from feeling excruciating pain as their lungs and heart shut down.

The inmates asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take its time reviewing transcripts and rulings, rather than complete their work in two days as the state has asked.

"It is unfortunate that a USA district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice", said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the office. Supporters have said it is effective, and the U.S. Supreme Court has authorized its use.

Midazolam, which is used as an anesthetic.

Hours before the first execution was scheduled to begin, fights continued on several fronts in state and federal court.

The state Supreme Court reassigned the cases from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen days after he participated in the anti-death penalty demonstration outside the governor's mansion. Griffen, who served 12 years on the state appeals court, previously battled with the judicial discipline panel over remarks he made criticizing President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

Arkansas employs potassium chloride in combination with vecuronium bromide and midazolam.

"We will continue our efforts to facilitate the return of our product and ensure that it is used in line with our supplier agreement", McKesson said in a statement. It said Thursday that it issued Arkansas a refund of its purchase price, but that the drug wasn't returned.

Arkansas' execution plan has been met with widespread criticism.

. In the brief, the companies say that their contracts with distributors specifically note that the drugs are not to be provided to correctional facilities.

According to, midazolam is a sedative in the benzodiazepine family that "may cause severe breathing problems (eg, respiratory depression, respiratory arrest), especially when used for sedation in noncritical care settings". If court proceedings are pushed into May, it won't be able to carry out the executions with the drugs it has on hand.

"These thoughts weigh heavily on the court, but the court has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution".

A member of the United Methodist Church, Copley has been an outspoken critic of the death penalty and had attended a rally that day, in which the actor Johnny Depp joined hundreds at the Arkansas state Capitol calling on Hutchinson to halt the executions, when he learned about Griffen's ruling. The inmates wanted stays of execution while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants.

The inmates lost on some claims, including one that their lawyers couldn't provide adequate counsel under the state's schedule and that the tight timetable itself was improper.

The lawsuit behind the injunction was filed on behalf of nine condemned prisoners.

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