Arkansas' plan to rush the execution of 8 men over the course of 11 days in advance of the expiration of state supplies of a lethal injection drug is now in legal limbo.
A federal judge ruled on Saturday to halt the executions over the inmates' complaints about the compressed timetable and the use of a controversial sedative in the lethal injections.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.
Griffen scheduled a hearing Tuesday, the day after the first execution was scheduled. Griffen's order effectively halted the executions, which had dropped to six after the state Supreme Court blocked one execution Friday and a federal judge halting another last week, unless the state finds a new supply of the drug.
Early last month, Arkansas state governor Asa Hutchinson signed declarations to bring back capital punishment to the state for the first time since 2005 and execute 8 inmates between April 17 to April 27.
A staunch Republican, Hutchinson has spent years doggedly fighting against the legal difficulties that prevented capital punishment in the state.
"This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law, but it is also important to bring closure to the victims' families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time," said Hutchinson in a statement to the Associated Press. If Arkansas does nothing to stop the declaration, the men will be executed in pairs on 4 days during the 10-day period.
Like several other states, Arkansas uses a combination of potassium chloride, midazolam, and vecuronium bromide to carry out the executions. Solomon Graves, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections, told CNN that the state's supply of potassium chloride expired recently (although Hutchinson's spokesperson said the state would have no difficulty acquiring more) while the supply of Midazolam is set to expire in April.
The rushed execution plan has drawn outrage from both activists and religious groups.
"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.
“The setting of four executions within 10 days is gruesome and brutal," Catholic Sister Joan Pytlik told the Arkansas Catholic.
The men, all sentenced to death for capital murder between 1991 and 2000, are Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Ledelle Lee, Stacey Eugene Johnson, Jack Harold Jones, Marcel W. Williams, Kenneth D. Williams, James F. McGehee.
This is the first time any state in the US executes so many men in such a short time period since 1977, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
"No state has ever conducted eight executions over a 10-day period," he said.
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