Lawyers: Don't rush Arkansas executions decision

AG Rutledge Works to Dismantle Roadblocks to Executions

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Hutchinson is a low-key former prosecutor known for delving into policy issues, but he has put himself and his state at the center of the national debate over the death penalty with his extraordinary plan to execute eight men before the end of April.

Some states have barred the use of the drug, and courts have reached different decisions on what inmates would have to do to suggest alternative means of execution. In addition to the state's rushed schedule, there are other concerns, according to the Fair Punishment Project. That order remains in place.

Then on Saturday, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a temporary injunction blocking the execution of all eight inmates.

The case involving the drug was reassigned to another judge shortly after the Supreme Court issued its order Monday.

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. Any decision there would likely also be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Lawyers for the inmates had raised questions about their mental competency.

Writing in a dissent, Associate Justice Shawn Womack lamented the court's ruling. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable because it is not a painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the execution of Jason McGehee should be put on hold for 30 days after the Arkansas Parole Board suggested to Hutchinson that McGehee's sentence should be commuted to life in prison. Moreover, McKesson argued the state had misled it as to how the drug would be used and did not inform the company it would be a part of a lethal cocktail.

Judge Wendell Griffen portrays a prisoner on a gurney during a protest against executions in front of the governor's mansion in Little Rock, Ark. on April 14, 2017.

At the demonstration, Griffen was strapped to a cot. He has said he's morally opposed to the death penalty and that his personal beliefs alone shouldn't disqualify him from taking up certain cases.

The reissued order Monday clarifies that three of the seven justices would have denied the request for a stay for Bruce Earl Ward.

The state was still moving forward with plans to conduct the Monday night executions in the event that all stays were lifted.

The inmates are all convicted murderers, including one found guilty of raping and murdering a mother of two and another convicted in the torture-killing of a 15-year-old boy. But the ruling did not change the situation because Baker's order had already halted all the executions.

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

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.

The executions would have started Monday night under Arkansas' aggressive plan to use a key drug before it expires at the end of April. Griffen, who served 12 years on the state appeals court, previously battled with the judicial discipline panel over remarks he made criticizing President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Despite some legal setbacks for the state, it was still possible the executions could begin at 7 p.m. Monday.

The lawyers said it was wrong for her to decide the inmates "did not establish a significant possibility of success on the merits on their claim that the compressed execution schedule is contrary to the evolving standards of decency".

But Rutledge and her staff of more than 70 attorneys worked all day Saturday to overturn those decisions and the state has filed an appeal for each one. She also noted that the execution team did not have antidotes on hand in case there was trouble with any of the drugs.

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