Federal judge issues order to block Arkansas executions

By Amy R. Connolly   |   April 15, 2017 at 7:43 AM

April 15 (UPI) -- An Arkansas federal judge issued an order Saturday to halt planned inmate executions, launching yet another blockade to the state's plan to put at least seven inmates to death in an 11-day period.

The Arkansas Attorney General's office called the decision by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker "unfortunate" and filed a notice to appeal. In her order, Baker said there was a "significant possibility" the inmates' challenge to the execution protocol would be successful. She said the inmates were entitled to challenge the execution process on the grounds it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain."

"The state of Arkansas does not intend to torture plaintiffs to death," Baker wrote in the order. "However, the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is not limited to inherently barbaric punishments. 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.' "

The ruling comes a day after the state Supreme Court issued an emergency stay blocking the execution of inmate Bruce Ward, the first of seven inmates the state planned to execute between April 17 and April 27 in advance of its lethal injection drugs expiring at the end of April.

It also comes after Arkansas Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order against the state to delay seven planned executions. The order stopped the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three execution drugs.

The state Attorney General's Office said it would seek to have Griffen's order overturn in the state Supreme Court. A hearing is set for Tuesday.

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said Griffen should not have heard the case at all.

"As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case," Deere said. "Attorney General Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible."

On Friday, pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi argued in court the state purchased potassium chloride, another drug used in executions, under false pretenses.

The state's execution protocol uses midazolam as a sedative, vecuronium bromide to stop breathing and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

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