The Arkansas executions have been halted for the time being. This was after an outburst of last-minute legal challenges. Temporary injunctions have been issued by a pair of judges who managed to effectively block Arkansas from executing six men it planned to put to death this month.
Arkansas was ready to execute the men in an 11-day span starting Monday. The executions drew critics from death penalty opponents who said it was cruel and unusual punishment, and increased the likelihood of a botched execution.
The U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker decided to grant a preliminary injunction that was requested by the inmates to block the executions. Judge Baker made the decision on Saturday, she ruled that there is a significant possibility that the men could successfully challenge the state's execution protocol.
On Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide. The drug is used in the state’s lethal injection.
The ruling by Judge Griffen came in response to a request from a pharmaceutical company known as McKesson Medical-Surgical. The company argued that its public image would suffer if the state used its drugs in executions. The company also said that the state had misled it as to how the drug would be used and did not inform the company it would be a part of an execution injection.
An emergency requests was filed with the state Supreme Court and the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Saturday by Arkansas Atty. Gen. Leslie Rutledge. The request seeks to vacate the orders as soon as possible.
The executions were scheduled to begin Monday, followed by more on Thursday, April 24 and 27, with two men to die each day. Arkansas would be the first state to execute so many individuals in such a short time frame. It would be followed by Texas, which executed eight men in both May and June 1997, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
The execution dates were set by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. This was after Rutledge determined that the eight men had exhausted their legal challenges. Hutchinson argued that the state had to act before the end of April since the state’s supply of midazolam, an anesthetic, had expired.
The executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, Robert Dunham indicated that the state has attempted to carry out these executions in a rush without any concern for what could go wrong.
In the beginning of this month, a federal judge had ruled that the execution of Jason McGehee should be put on hold for 30 days after the Arkansas Parole Board suggested to Hutchinson that McGehee’s sentence should be commuted to life in prison. Shortly before Griffen’s order, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of execution to Bruce Ward, who was to be put to death Monday.
Two drug manufacturers came out on Thursday asking a federal court to block Arkansas from using its drugs for executions. The manufacturers are Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp.
The manufacturers argued that doing so would violate contractual supply-chain controls that the companies have in place. Fresenius Kabi USA produces potassium chloride, while West-Ward produces midazolam.
The companies emphasized that their contracts with distributors specifically note that the drugs are not to be provided to correctional facilities. However, the Arkansas law permits the State to keep the source of its drugs a secret. Majority of the 31 states that allow lethal injection have similar secrecy provisions.
States have always struggled to secure the drugs needed to create a lethal injection cocktail. This is after the European Commission created strict controls on the export of drugs that could be used to carry out lethal injections in the United States. The European Union institution is tasked with proposing and implementing legislation.