Judge halts Arkansas plan to execute 8 inmates in 11 days

Asa Hutchinson

A federal judge Saturday blocked Arkansas' plan to execute six inmates over the course of ten days.

A spokesperson for state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas planned to appeal the federal ruling, saying, "It is unfortunate that a USA district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice". Crowds gather at a rally opposing Arkansas' upcoming executions, which are set to begin next week, on the front steps of the Capitol Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark. "I expect both the Supreme Court of Arkansas and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decisions quickly, and I have confidence in the Attorney General and her team to expedite the reviews".

Arkansas, which has not carried out an execution in 12 years, planned to begin the lethal injections of at least six convicted murderers on Monday and complete the executions before the end of April.

Manufacturers object to states using their drugs in executions, and the Arkansas Department of Corrections said in previous court filings that it doesn't have a way of obtaining more of the sedative midazolam.

This photo provided by Sherry Simon shows Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part of an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion Friday, April 14, 2017 in Little Rock, Ark.

No state has ever put as many inmates to death in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The inmates' attorneys had challenges the compressed timetable and the state's use of midazolam, which has been used in flawed executions in other states.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified they must conduct the executions with their current batch of midazolam, a sedative that is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts. It would keep the right to file another lawsuit if Baker's order is overturned.

On Friday, the pharmaceutical company filed a lawsuit and asked for a temporary restraining order preventing its drug from being used in executions. A federal judge issued stays for each of the inmates Saturday and a state court judge on Friday blocked prison officials from using a paralyzing drug until he could determine whether Arkansas obtained it properly.

The company has said it sold the drug to be used for medical purposes, not executions. One of them was never put into the execution schedule for April. Since then, two of the inmates received court stays, one of which was issued Friday.

Even with the stays in place and questions remaining before a number of courts, executions are still possible Monday night.

McKesson said it's considering legal action to get the drug back. The state has appealed that ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hadn't weighed in as of mid-afternoon. Arkansas hasn't carried out a double execution since 1999.

Rutledge on Saturday filed an emergency petition with the state Supreme Court after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen granted a temporary restraining order blocking the drug's use.

FILE- In this January 4, 2017, file photo Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks to members of the press during a Q&A session in Little Rock, Ark.

While regular church services were planned for the holiday, many residents in the capital had been also expecting to attend a special vigil for the condemned later Sunday evening at Little Rock's Trinity Cathedral - which was supposed conclude with a march to the governor's mansion.

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