Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide in the executions.
"We are gravely concerned that by rushing to complete these executions in April, the state of Arkansas is needlessly exacerbating the strain and stress placed on these officers", increasing the chance of error. The state has appealed that ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hadn't weighed in as of mid-afternoon.
Lawyers for the inmates challenged the use of midazolam, which was involved in flawed executions elsewhere, as well as the shortened timeframe. But prison officials and state attorneys say waiting now would put the state's death penalty on hold indefinitely.
"The schedule of imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern" Baker wrote in her order Saturday.
Medical supply company McKesson says Arkansas obtained its vecuronium bromide under false pretenses and that the state will not return it, even though the company has refunded Arkansas' money.
Arkansas is fighting on multiple legal fronts to begin a series of double-executions. The manufacturers of the three drugs object to their use in executions. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office said she planned to file an emergency request with the state Supreme Court to vacate Griffen's order, saying Griffen shouldn't handle the case.
"If midazolam does not adequately anesthetize plaintiffs, or if their executions are 'botched, ' they will suffer severe pain before they die", Baker wrote in her order Saturday. If it fails there, it can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued an injunction Saturday (April 15), amid arguments that the lethal injection cocktail may not work, and could therefore amount to "cruel and unusual punishment". He has been on death row since 1990.
A different federal judge has issued a stay for an inmate who won a clemency recommendation from the state's Parole Board, while the state Supreme Court has issued one for another inmate pending more mental health tests.
For the time being, Arkansas is going ahead with the preparations for the executions, two of which are scheduled for Monday.
Arkansas has asked that the state Supreme Court reverse its decision halting the execution of Bruce Earl Ward, which was set for Monday. Ward's attorneys had asked for the stay after a Jefferson County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution. The first executions are set for Monday night. Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. said in the filing they believe the state's Department of Correction bypassed controls on how the drugs are distributed, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
The six prisoners still facing execution - Davis, Stacey Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Jones Jr., Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams - likely learned about the reprieves from the televisions in their solitary cells, said Lee Short, an attorney for Lee.
Governor Asa Hutchinson has said the state must act quickly because its midazolam supply expires at the end of the month. "Judge Griffen was protesting the very executions he had just enjoined".
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