LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' highest court on Thursday denied a request to reconsider its June ruling upholding the state's execution secrecy law, but justices issued a stay that prevents the state from setting new execution dates as some inmates appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a split decision denying a rehearing request by attorneys representing nine inmates who challenged the law that requires the Department of Correction to conceal the maker, seller and other information about the drugs. The inmates have argued the law could lead to cruel or unusual punishment and reneges on an earlier pledge by the state to share information.
Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the inmates, said he will be filing "a timely" petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to review the state Supreme Court decision. He declined to discuss the state high court's denial of the rehearing request.
Associate Justices Paul Danielson, Robin Wynne and Josephine Hart disagreed with the order issued Thursday, saying they would grant a rehearing. All three wrote dissenting opinions in the June decision upholding the state's law, with Wynne saying the inmates had proven at least part of their constitutional challenges to the law.
With Thursday's decision, the state's high court also granted a request from the inmates' attorneys to issue a stay regarding the order to uphold the execution secrecy law. The stay delays the June ruling from being put into effect so the inmates can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and also postpones the state's ability to seek new execution dates for eight of the nine inmates who have exhausted their legal challenges in their individual criminal cases.
Solomon Graves, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, referred all questions on Thursday's court decision to the state attorney general's office.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said Rutledge believed the court should have allowed new execution dates to be set.
"Attorney General Rutledge is certainly gratified that the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected the prisoners' request for a rehearing," Deere said. "She is pleased we are one step closer to obtaining justice for these victims and is confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will reject the prisoners' meritless request to review this case."
In filings earlier this month the inmates' attorneys said the Arkansas Supreme Court misinterpreted the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in an Oklahoma case filed by inmate Richard Glossip who challenged the use of the surgical sedative midazolam. Oklahoma uses the same three-drug protocol as Arkansas— midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
Glossip was hours away from his scheduled execution last September when prison officials realized they had received potassium acetate, not potassium chloride. Oklahoma has a moratorium on executions while they reexamine their protocol.
Arkansas has not executed a prisoner since 2005, as inmates challenged various procedures and drug companies withheld their products amid concerns they'd be targeted by protests or boycotts. State legislators last year said prison officials could keep many of their execution procedures secret, including the names of their drug suppliers.
The state's supply of the paralytic vecuronium bromide expired June 30. Prison officials have since obtained additional doses, but another of Arkansas' lethal drugs, potassium chloride, expires at the end of January.