By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday granted an emergency stay of execution for one of two inmates scheduled to die on Monday by lethal injection, a setback to the state as it prepares an unprecedented series of executions, court documents showed.
The stay came in the case of Bruce Ward, 60, who was convicted of murdering a convenience store clerk in Little Rock and sentenced to death in 1990.
Ward is one of seven men that Arkansas intended to execute by lethal injection over 11 days beginning on Monday, before its batch of one drug used in the executions expires. Arkansas has not carried out any executions in 12 years.
An eighth inmate who had been scheduled to die also won a stay earlier, removing him from the list for April execution.
Lawyers for all of the convicts have asked a federal court in Little Rock to block the executions, arguing the state's rush to the death chamber was unconstitutional and reckless. The U.S. judge has yet to issue a ruling on the broader case.
Regardless, the state Supreme Court put Ward's execution on hold, at least temporarily, offering no comment.
His lawyers had argued he was schizophrenic and the court should take that into consideration before any final decision on his execution.
"He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that," Scott Braden, a lawyer with the Arkansas Federal Defender Office said after the stay was granted.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge was evaluating how to proceed in Ward's case, a spokesman said in a statement.
Governor Asa Hutchinson has said the state must act quickly because the efficacy date for one of the chemicals in its lethal injection mix, the sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April. The prospects of the state acquiring more drugs are slim.
Two pharmaceuticals companies have asked a federal court to block Arkansas from using their drugs for upcoming executions, claiming that doing so would violate contractual controls and create a public health risk, court documents showed.
Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp filed a brief on Thursday asking a federal court in Arkansas to take into consideration that the use of their drugs in a lethal injection "violates contractual supply-chain controls," according to an online court document.
The companies sell their drugs only to wholesalers and distributors that agree to resell only to acute-care hospitals, clinics and healthcare facilities. They also instruct resellers not to sell or deliver their drugs to correctional facilities, according to the brief.
Arkansas uses potassium chloride in combination with vecuronium bromide and midazolam. The latter drug is intended to render the inmate unconscious before the other two chemicals are administered to paralyze the lungs and stop the heart.
The companies did not disclose which of their drugs Arkansas will use during the executions.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Cynthia Osterman)