Arkansas pushes to carry out executions, fighting court rulings and the clock

Image Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted the executions of two men originally scheduled to be put to death Monday night, putting another legal roadblock in place in Arkansas' plan to conduct eight executions before the end of April.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected Attorney General Leslie Rultedge's motion to vacate the stay of Bruce Ward. At least six states have used the drug for executions since 2013, and less than 2 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its use as an execution drug.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says she's evaluating options on how to proceed.

The same day, he issued a temporary restraining order delaying the state's plan to execute eight prisoners from April 17-27. 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.

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.

Attorney General Rutledge filed an appeal of Ward's stay on Saturday, saying the stay was "without merit".

"We do not require people to come into court with blank slates, either in their minds or their heart", he said Saturday. After issuing the order, Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration where he was strapped to a cot.

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The inmates wanted stays of execution while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants. That would be the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that monitors U.S. capital punishment.

Inmates went to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overnight and asked judges to take their time reviewing transcripts and rulings, rather than complete their work in two days as the state has asked. The Arkansas Department of Correction's supply of midazolam, one of three drugs in the state's lethal-injection protocol, expires April 30.

Baker's ruling prompted McKesson Corp., a medical supply company, to ask Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen to vacate his Friday order blocking the executions over the company's claims the vecuronium bromide was sold to the state for medical purposes, not lethal injection. Justices also referred Griffen to the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to consider whether he violated the code of conduct for judges.

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. They include a post days before his ruling that criticized the execution push in Arkansas.

"Multiple executions are likely to result in mental health problems for those involved in the execution process", they wrote Monday.

Arkansas says it can not find a new drug supply if the executions are delayed. Protesters gather outside the state Capitol building on Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark., to voice their opposition to Arkansas' seven upcoming executions. They say in their filings that the stays should be reversed immediately so Arkansas can carry out the executions before one of its lethal injection drugs expires at the end of the month.

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