Judge halts Arkansas plan to execute 8 inmates in 11 days

The court must now decide whether the state's execution plans constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

A federal judge in Arkansas issued an injunction Saturday halting the execution by lethal injection of nine inmates, saying the prisoners will likely succeed in demonstrating the state's proposed method of execution is unconstitutional.

Last week U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. proved receptive to that argument, ruling that the original schedule did not allow enough time for the clemency petition of one of the death-row inmates, Jason McGehee, to proceed.

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. "The court granted a stay of Ward's scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so".

"We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about his sanity". She said the inmates were entitled to challenge the execution process on the grounds it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain".

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) said Friday evening that she was weighing how to respond to the stay. The state's attorneys have called the challenge an effort to delay the executions indefinitely and have said they don't have a replacement identified for the drug if it expires.

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"Arkansans have shown a consistent commitment to the death penalty, although Arkansas has employed the death penalty less than surrounding states", Barth said.

The Arkansas Department of Correction plans to continue preparations for the executions in the event the orders are lifted.

"The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern", she wrote.

Arkansas intends to use the surgical sedative midazolam to mask the effects of drugs that stop the lungs and heart.

This followed Friday's legal developments including a temporary restraining order issued on the drugs used during the executions.

If Ward's stay remains in place and he is not executed this month, Arkansas would be looking at executing six inmates in 11 days - no longer an unprecedented time-frame, but one that has not been seen in this country in almost two decades. A state judge earlier Friday blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug, a move that could also halt the executions altogether.

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Dozens of Christian leaders sent a letter to Governor Asa Hutchinson on Thursday, urging him to halt the executions.

Arkansas has drawn national scrutiny and criticism since scheduling its executions, which would be the state's first since 2005. Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate in eleven years, in part because of problems it has had with the injection drug, the Associated Press reported.

"Without the medical license, and the associated tacit representation that the controlled drug would only be used for a legitimate medical objective, McKesson would not have sold the vecuronium to ADC", the company said in its lawsuit.

The inmates lost on some claims, including one that their lawyers couldn't provide adequate counsel under the state's schedule and that the tight timetable itself was improper.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on Saturday granted a preliminary injunction requested by the inmates to block the executions.

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