Remove circuit judge from executions case, reverse order

Apr 16, 2017, 02:08
Remove circuit judge from executions case, reverse order

A federal judge in Arkansas has halted the execution of seven men beginning Monday night, throwing another wrench into the state's plans to carry out the executions before its lethal injection drugs expire. 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.

Ward was one of two inmates set to die Monday.

The state has faced a series of legal setbacks in its plan to rush through the executions, which it said was necessary because its supply of one of the drugs used, midazolam, was about to expire.

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. "After hearing the evidence. the court is compelled to stay these executions".

This is the first time any state in the U.S. executes so many men in such a short time period since 1977, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Lawyers for the inmates challenged the use of midazolam, which was involved in flawed executions elsewhere, as well as the shortened timeframe.

"The rulings today are just part of the process and not unexpected", J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker released her decision Saturday morning, concluding: "The Court finds that plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction based on their method of execution claim under the Eighth Amendment". "A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her execution by showing that the state's method "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain" and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives'". "The Governor will meet with the Attorney General next week to discuss the appropriate action".

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

"The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern", she wrote.

Roughly an hour after Judge Griffen issued the temporary restraining order, he could be found lying on a cot in front of the Governor's Mansion protesting against the planned executions.

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

The state Attorney General's Office said it would seek to have Griffen's order overturn in the state Supreme Court. McKesson argued vecuronium bromide is for medical purposes, and that the Arkansas Department of Correction "misled" the company when it purchased the drug by phone, according to a court brief.

Some states are now considering alternate means of execution, including the re-introduction of firing squads. Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. have asked the court to prohibit Arkansas from using their drugs.

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said Griffen should not have heard the case at all.

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.

Prior to Baker's ruling, one of the eight executions was set aside because Arkansas didn't allow for a full 30-day comment period after the inmate won a clemency recommendation.