Arkansas judge blocks state from using lethal drug

Claudine Rigal
Avril 17, 2017

He went on to say he expected quick answers from both the state and federal appeals courts.

And state and federal courts across the country are upholding the legality of the states' new secrecy laws, despite waves of legal challenges filed by inmate advocates that the information was needed to protect the guarantee of a humane execution process.

A state judge ruled Friday that Arkansas can not inject inmates with the muscle relaxant now on hand until he addresses a complaint that prison officials obtained the drug improperly.

The first of the executions was scheduled for Monday, but barring a reversal by judges or a higher court, Don Davis will not be put to death that day. "Their guilt is beyond dispute, and Arkansas is entitled to see that their victims receive justice decades after appellees' horrific crimes", Rutledge said in the brief. There's no question but that the majority of Arkansans support the death penalty.

John C. Williams, an assistant federal public defender representing some of the inmates, praised Baker's ruling and said the execution plans in Arkansas "denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture".

The reason for the rush, according to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson was that one of the sedatives in the lethal injection mix expires at the end of the month.

"Upon learning that ADC was potentially holding the product for lethal injection purposes, McKesson immediately requested and was assured by ADC that the product would be returned", the statement said.

Drugmakers have largely objected to having their products used in executions and have refused to sell to prisons for that goal.

"Despite the confidentiality provisions, it is still very hard to find a supplier willing to sell drugs to (the state) for use in lethal-injection executions", state Correction Department Director Wendy Kelley said in a court affidavit this month.

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

In her ruling, however, Baker did not accept all of the inmates' claims.

A report from Harvard Law's Fair Punishment Project found that six of the eight men scheduled for execution, including Ward, are not mentally fit for the death penalty.

The death-row inmates and others not facing imminent execution have also argued in a federal lawsuit that the state's execution schedule and protocol are unconstitutional.

The attorney general filed paperwork saying the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis should overturn stays of execution granted earlier Saturday by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker. She ordered the state to return on Monday with a revised execution plan.

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

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas planned to appeal the federal ruling, saying, "It is unfortunate that a U.S. district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice". The companies that produced the drugs have said they don't want their products used in executions.

The death row inmates range in age from 38 to 60 and include one who came within six hours of execution in 2010 before a state supreme court halted it as a prelude to examining the law on capital punishment.

"This court should put a stop to the games being played by a judge who is obviously unable to preside over this case impartially", Rutledge's wrote in her request.

A representative for the McKesson company could not be reached Saturday. Some states have barred the use of the drug, and courts have reached different decisions on what inmates would have to do to suggest alternative means of execution.

Actor Johnny Depp greets someone as he walks to the podium to speak at a rally opposing Arkansas' upcoming executions, which are set to begin next week, on the front steps of the Capitol Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

In a statement he said he expected all of the last month's clemency hearings and court cases to be tough on the victim's families, calling it "all part of a hard process".

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