Outcry after Arkansas judge who stayed executions joins anti-death penalty rally

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.

In federal court testimony over the past week, doctors differed on whether midazolam is an appropriate execution drug, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is.

Asa Hutchinson is a low-key former prosecutor known for delving into policy issues, but he has put himself and his state at the center of the national debate over the death penalty with his extraordinary plan to execute eight men before the end of the month.

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

On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting state officials from using the drug, writing that McKesson would suffer "loss of property and forced participation in a procedure that is likely to cause reputational injury" if he didn't, the Washington Post reports.

"The unnecessarily compressed execution schedule using the risky drug midazolam denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture", he said in a statement, referring to the drug used to render inmates unconscious before they are given two other drugs that paralyze and kill them.

She said the condemned prisoners had the right under the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution - which bans "cruel and unusual punishment" - to challenge the state's plans to put them to death by lethal injection with a controversial three-drug cocktail.

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

A medical supply company says a drug it sold to Arkansas that will be used to execute seven inmates before the end of the month was not meant to be used for lethal injection.

Baker's ruling prompted McKesson Corp., a medical supply company, to ask Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen to vacate his Friday order blocking the executions over the company's claims the vecuronium bromide was sold to the state for medical purposes, not lethal injection.

Several pharmaceutical companies, notably European-based ones, refuse to allow their drugs to be used in executions. After receiving the drug, patients must be on a ventilator or they will suffocate because their diaphragm can not move. After that, officials say finding a supplier willing to allow the drug to be used to kill someone will be exceptionally hard.

Arkansas Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge and her staff are very busy along with the lawyers for all the inmates. The state Supreme Court had yet to take action on the McKesson case late Saturday.

Arkansas last put someone to death in 2005. A state court judge on Friday blocked Arkansas from using one of its three lethal injection drugs until he can determine whether it was obtained properly, and a federal judge on Saturday issued stays of all the executions.

"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 review", the Republican governor explained.

Arkansas appealed in those cases and also hoped to dissolve a separate stay for Ward that had been issued by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The filing is among a flurry of lawsuits in state and federal courts aimed at halting the executions. She also noted that the execution team did not have antidotes on hand in case there was trouble with any of the drugs.

Arkansas was set to begin putting seven prisoners to death - some in pairs - in the span of 11 days between April 17 and 27.

  • Joey Payne