Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

Asa Hutchinson

"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".

This photo provided by Cheryl 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.

On Friday, Arkansas Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen, an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, issued an order on Friday blocking the state from using vecuronium bromide after a petition from its maker, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said even if the Arkansas Supreme Court vacates Griffen's temporary restraining order, Arkansas would still be barred from executing inmates because of Baker's Saturday ruling.

Baker in Little Rock also stated in her ruling that the execution team did not have antidotes on hand in case something went wrong with the executions - a possibility, she noted, which has already happened in cases in Alabama, Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma when using the same drug.

The first of the executions was scheduled for Monday, but barring a reversal by judges or a higher court, Don Davis will not be put to death that day.

An Arkansas federal judge issued an order Saturday to halt planned inmate executions, launching yet another blockade to the state's plan to put at least seven inmates to death in an 11-day period.

Arkansas plans to execute seven inmates before the end of April, when its supply of midazolam expires.

Attorneys argued that Ward, 60, should not be executed because he's mentally incompetent.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted the inmates stays of execution on Saturday, but she rejected their arguments that there was too little time between executions. After issuing the order, Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration where he was strapped to a cot.

Ward was one of two inmates set to die Monday.

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. She also said the protocol doesn't lay out what executioners intend to do to ensure that the inmates are unconscious.

The company that asked Griffen to act, McKesson Corp., sought to drop its lawsuit after Baker issued her stays. Some states have barred the use of the drug, and courts have reached different decisions on what inmates would have to do to suggest alternative means of execution.

"ADC (the Arkansas Department of Correction) personnel used an existing medical license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical uses, and an irregular ordering process to obtain the vecuronium via phone order with a McKesson salesperson", the brief said.

The company said it wants to dismiss the lawsuit it had filed against the state over its use of vecuronium bromide sold by the company that was expected to be used in the upcoming executions. The company, along with other pharmaceutical makers, objects to its drug being used in executions.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed the decision hours after it was issued.

"This expiration date is directly linked to the state's urgency to execute eight men in ten days", said the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in a statement. He's been on death row since 1990 for strangling a woman in a convenience store bathroom, CNN affiliate KARK-TV in Little Rock reported.

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