Arkansas's highest court keeps executions on hold, for now

AP News
Posted: Oct 20, 2015 4:46 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a lower-court judge overstepped his jurisdiction by halting the executions of eight death row inmates. But the high court immediately granted its own stay to give the inmates time to challenge a law that allows the state not to disclose where it gets its execution drugs.

The justices sided with the state in agreeing to toss a ruling made earlier this month by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. Still, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was disappointed that the executions, the first of which was scheduled for this week, remained on hold.

"While the Supreme Court's decision is not about the merits of the case, it is unfortunate that this further delays justice for the victims. I will continue to defend Arkansas's lethal injection statute and fight for the victims and their grieving families," Rutledge wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Griffen had temporarily halted all of the state's executions, which were scheduled through January. He also set a hearing for March, and the Supreme Court didn't grant the state's request to order Griffen to adopt a faster timetable.

The prisoners are challenging the constitutionality of the state's new secrecy law, saying they need the information on where the state's execution drugs were made and how to determine whether they will lead to cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates' attorneys also argued that the state agreed to tell the inmates that information as part of a previous settlement agreement in a different lawsuit. The state has said that agreement is not a binding contract.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the inmates, said he was pleased with the court's ruling Tuesday.

"We realize there is a lot of litigation yet lying in front of us. But we feel the decision of the Supreme Court was the appropriate decision in this case," he said. "The state made a binding commitment to provide us with this information and we are entitled to this information."