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News Worms


Arkansas court halts first two of eight planned April executions

Arkansas court halts first two of eight planned April executions

The state suffered another setback on Monday when the Arkansas Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision to block one of the day's executions after lawyers for convicted murderer Bruce Ward raised questions about his mental competence.

The court granted Ward's request for a stay of execution Friday (April 14) but offered no reason for its decision.

State attorneys have appealed most of the orders blocking executions, including Ward's stay. Baker, dealt another blow Saturday, April 15, 2017, to Arkansas' unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in an 11-day period, saying the men have the right to challenge a drug protocol that could expose them to "severe pain".

Among the decisions the state is appealing is one from a federal judge who on Saturday halted all of the executions so the inmates could pursue claims their deaths could be especially painful. The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay in his execution.

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The Arkansas Supreme Court reassigned capital cases on the docket of the judge, Wendell Griffen, in an assignment order (PDF) on Monday, Arkansas Online reports.

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. If Arkansas had proceeded with its original plan to execute eight inmates in double executions on four days, it would have been the most people put to death by a state in that timeframe since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976. Any decision there would likely also be appealed to the US Supreme Court. She also noted that the execution team did not have antidotes on hand in case there was trouble with any of the drugs. She dismissed their claims that the compressed execution schedule risks causing needless suffering and impedes their right to counsel. The latter drug is meant to render the inmate unconscious before the other two chemicals are administered to paralyse the lungs and stop the heart.

"It is unfortunate that a USA district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice", said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the office. Griffen, who served 12 years on the state appeals court, previously battled with the judicial discipline panel over remarks he made criticizing President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Rutledge said the state court's ruling was based "on a misinterpretation of federal law".

Under Arkansas' protocol, midazolam is used to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide then stops the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart.

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Griffen did not immediately return a message Monday seeking his reaction to the high court's order. It said Thursday that it issued Arkansas a refund of its purchase price, but that the drug wasn't returned.

Arkansas is making preparations for a series of executions that, as of late morning Monday, it is legally barred from carrying out. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable as an execution drug, saying it is not a painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

"Reject the state's request for a rushed analysis of this complex record", they wrote.

In an order issued Sunday night, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey of the Western District of Arkansas denied separate motions filed Wednesday by Davis' attorneys for relief of judgment and a stay of his execution. The company, whose spokesman did not respond to an email Sunday, said in court filings that Baker's ruling eliminated the need for the order because it halted the executions. "(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".

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