Arkansas Asks Appeals Court to Vacate Ruling Which is Delaying Executions

Arkansas Supreme Court puts execution of one inmate on hold

Baker, dealt another blow Saturday, April 15, 2017, to Arkansas' unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in an 11-day period, saying the men have the right to challenge a drug protocol that could expose them to "severe pain".

Inmates went to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overnight and asked judges to take their time reviewing transcripts and rulings, rather than complete their work in two days as the state has asked. The six remaining executions are on hold because of Baker's order and because a state circuit judge in Little Rock ordered the state to not use a lethal injection drug until questions are settled on how the state obtained it. A federal judge blocked the execution of Jason McGehee on April 6, and on Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court also blocked the execution of Bruce Ward.

The doses of midazolam expire at the end of the month, with no guarantee that the state will be able to replenish its supply in the near future, given the rise in the number of pharmaceutical companies no longer willing to provide drugs used for executions. "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'".

Midazolam is the key drug in the procedure and one that Arkansas hasn't yet used in an execution. 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.

"The unnecessarily compressed execution schedule using the risky drug midazolam denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture", lawyer John C. Williams said. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable as an execution drug, saying it is not a painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In the 101-page order, Baker agreed with the inmates' argument that the occasionally faulty execution drug midazolam threatened their constitutional rights.

"ADC personnel used an existing medical license, which is to be used only to order products with legitimate medical uses, and irregular ordering process to obtain the Vecuronium via phone order with a McKesson sales person", the brief said.

On Friday, the company filed a request with the court to prohibit the use of their drug, Vecuronium Bromide.

Arkansas' plans to carry out six executions over two weeks - already stopped by a state judge - were doubly halted Saturday by a federal judge who raised constitutional concerns. After receiving the drug, patients must be on a ventilator or they will suffocate because their diaphragm can not move.

In response, the Arkansas attorney general's office wasted little time in declaring its intention to appeal the ruling.

"I understand how hard this is on the victims' families, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the continued court reviews; however, the last-minute court reviews are all part of the hard process of death penalty cases", said Mr. Hutchinson, a Republican.

Baker's ruling added to a list of roadblocks for the state, following a stay of execution of another inmate, 24 hours earlier. It had said Thursday it issued Arkansas a refund of its purchase price but that the drug came back.

The director of the Arkansas Department of Correction, Wendy Kelley, testified this week that Arkansas was not charged for its current supply of potassium chloride.

Baker ordered lawyers for the state and the death row prisoners to return to court on Monday with a revised plan for viewing the executions and having defense counsel present. Upon doing so, the drug company, McKesson Medical Surgical, made a request to pull their lawsuit.

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