Arkansas prepping for lethal injections despite halt from courts

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 17, 2017 1:00 PM

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Arkansas has not called off its plans to begin an unprecedented series of executions on Monday despite federal and state court rulings that temporarily halted the lethal injections of eight death row inmates.

The orders by the various judges barred the state from carrying out the executions, including two planned for Monday night.

But the state was hoping to win last-minute reversals of the decisions for convicted murderers Don Davis and Bruce Ward and was still preparing for the executions to go ahead, prisons spokesman Solomon Graves told reporters. Each man has spent more than 20 years on death row.

Arkansas, which has not held an execution in 12 years, had planned to execute eight inmates over 11 days, the most of any state in that short a time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The state had set the expedited schedule because one of the drugs in its difficult-to-obtain lethal injection mix, the sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April.

Critics contend its rush to the death chamber was reckless and unconstitutional.

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.

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.

On April 6, U.S. District Judge J.P. Marshall halted one of the eight executions, saying the expedited schedule did not allow proper time for considering clemency for inmate Jason McGehee. The state has not appealed that decision.

On Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court halted Ward's execution after lawyers for the inmate argued he was mentally incompetent. The state has appealed.

Also on Friday, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the state from administering one of three drugs it planned to use, vercuronium bromide.

On Saturday, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a temporary injunction for all eight inmates that halted their executions on grounds including that the state's protocols violate U.S. constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The state has appealed.

Baker also found that the state would deprive the inmates of adequate counsel because prison officials allow only a single lawyer to be present for any execution.

If the attorney had to rush out to file an emergency petition, it would deprive the inmate of a lawyer to witness the execution, Baker said.

(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)