10:31, April 17 565 0 abajournal.com

2017-04-17 10:31:04
Federal and state judges block executions of eight Arkansas inmates; state appeals

Federal and state judges on Friday and Saturday temporarily blocked the execution of eight inmates in Arkansas, but the state is nonetheless preparing to execute two of the inmates Monday evening.

The state has filed appeals, and the issues could reach the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, Arkansas Online reports. The state had planned to execute seven inmates by April 27, before its execution sedative midazolam reaches its expiration date. The state has not appealed a stay issued on behalf of an eighth inmate, though it still could do so.

Acting on Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the execution of one of the inmates, Bruce Ward, who was scheduled for lethal injection on Monday. His lawyers had sought the stay to allow for an evaluation of whether he is mentally capable of understanding his punishment.

Also on Friday, a state judge, Wendell Griffen of Pulaski County, blocked use of vercuronium bromide, one of the drugs used in the state’s three-drug lethal-injection cocktail, NBC News reports. The judge ruled after McKesson Medical-Surgical alleged the state had duped the company into providing the drug, which is used to stop the inmate’s breathing.

Then on Saturday, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a temporary injunction blocking the execution of all eight inmates. Baker cited issues with the efficacy of midazolam, though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its use in Glossip v. Gross, the New York Times reports.

“The threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs is significant: If midazolam does not adequately anesthetize plaintiffs, or if their executions are ‘botched,’ they will suffer severe pain before they die,” Baker wrote.

Baker also said the right to counsel could be infringed by state policies that allow only one lawyer to witness execution. The lawyer would have to leave the room to use the telephone if he or she needed to file a petition during the execution, leaving inmates without counsel present, Baker said.

On Sunday night, another federal judge, Susan Hickey, denied separate motions for a stay filed on behalf of the other inmate scheduled to die on Monday, Don Davis.

ABA President Linda Klein has asked Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to delay the executions. Klein expressed concern in the letter that the execution schedule “prioritizes expediency above due process.”