Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

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Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast rewritten or redistributed

The federal injunction comes one day after an Arkansas judge blocked the use of the drug in the planned executions. Because the state's supply reaches its expiration date April 30, Arkansas scheduled eight executions before then.

On Saturday Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen was strapped to a cot, like an inmate who is set to be executed by lethal injection, about two and a half hours before he issued a temporary restraining order blocking the executions, the Washington Times reported.

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

"The rapid schedule will put an extraordinary burden on the men and women required by the state to carry out this most solemn act, and it will increase the risk of mistakes in the execution chamber - which could haunt them for the rest of their lives", said Allen Ault, Georgia's former commissioner of corrections who has overseen five executions, writing in Time magazine's March 28 edition.

The Arkansas high court already had issued one stay for Ward after a Jefferson County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution.

The San Francisco-based company said in a statement released Thursday night that it sold vecuronium bromide to Arkansas' prison system believing it would be used for medical purposes. 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.

"The court is mindful of the fact that the state of Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, despite consistent support for capital punishment for Arkansawyers and their elected representatives", Baker wrote. The state Supreme Court had yet to take action on the McKesson case late Saturday.

The state is appealing, as it hopes to put the men to death before its supply of an execution drug expires at the end of the month.

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U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, in a 101-page ruling, found the state's plan would deny the inmates their legal rights by depriving them of adequate counsel because prison officials allow only a single lawyer to be present for any execution. He has been on death row since 1990.

The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's Friday rally comes as a federal judge weighs whether to grant the inmates' requests to block their upcoming executions. The state Supreme Court issued a stay for another of the inmates on Friday so that his mental health could be assessed.

The Arkansas attorney general's office is attempting to unwind the court rulings put in place to dismantle eight executions ordered by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, NBC News reports.

Judd Deere, Rutledge's spokesman, condemned the judge's decision.

Ward was one of two inmates set to die Monday.

The drugs used in lethal injections by some American states - 19 of the 50 no longer execute prisoners - have become increasingly hard to obtain. "(D) elaying Appellees' executions by even a few days - until Arkansas's supply of midazolam expires - will make it impossible for Arkansas to carry out Appellees' just and lawful sentences".

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified they must conduct the executions with their current batch of midazolam, a sedative that is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts.

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