Arkansas Pushes To Carry Out Executions, Fighting Court Rulings And The Clock

Posted April 18, 2017

With the clock ticking, Arkansas officials are fighting to carry out an unprecedented seven executions in 10 days and battling a flurry of court rulings that have thrown up roadblocks just in the last few days.

The state's lawyers pressed the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow the executions to begin, saying that the inmates were simply stalling so a key lethal injection drug would expire. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments in that case April 24.

But rulings by four judges have put the brakes on the Arkansas plan, which has drawn challenges from inmates and from drug companies claiming the prison system deceived them over procurement.

Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, who represents three of the men the state is looking to execute, argues Arkansas' rush to complete the executions is unconstitutional and "reeks of an assembly line".

Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court also barred a state judge who blocked the multiple execution plan from taking up any death penalty related cases after he participated in a protest where he appeared to mimic a death row inmate about to receive a lethal injection.

Three Arkansas justices dissented, with Associate Justice Shawn Womack writing that Ward and Davis "had their day in court, the jury spoke, and decades of appeals have occurred".

A federal judge halted Arkansas' plans for execution. To depict the inmate's experience on the Arkansas death house gurney, he strapped himself to a cot on the sidewalk outside Hutchinson's home.

Hutchinson said he would meet with the state's lawyers and its prison officials on Monday to discuss Arkansas' next moves as it attempts to conduct executions for the first time since 2005.

The court said it would reassign the judge's case and refer the incident to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission "to consider whether he has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct".

If carried out, Monday's back-to-back executions would begin at 6 p.m. CDT (7.00 p.m. ET) at the state's Cummins Unit in Grady, a small town about 75 miles (120 km ) southeast of Little Rock, the state capital.

"The court finds that plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction based on their challenge to (the state's) viewing policies, in their current form, as unreasonable restrictions of plaintiffs' right to counsel and right of access to the courts", Baker wrote.

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The state's director of the department of corrections, Wendy Kelly, disputed the charge in testimony on Thursday.

The state of Arkansas appealed and has asked for a quick decision.

Rutledge filed a motion over the weekend asking the court to reconsider.

Lawyers for the state have appeals pending before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court.

That's not the only legal obstacle the state faces.

"The state also cites Griffen's personal blog where he states, "[The state] plan to use medication designed for treating and healing disease to kill men".

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the state Supreme Court Saturday to lift the stay it issued to Bruce Ward, who was scheduled to die on Monday.

Two of the executions had been stayed individually before all eight of them were blocked by a state judge and a federal judge.

Prior to Baker's ruling, one of the eight executions was set aside because Arkansas didn't allow for a full 30-day comment period after the inmate won a clemency recommendation.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified that they have no new source for the sedative, which is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable because it is not a painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.