Despite Legal Battles, Arkansas Could Still Execute 7 Inmates. But Should It?

The Arkansas Department of Corrections filed an emergency petition on Monday (April 17) against a Pulaski County circuit judge who issued an order stopping the scheduled executions until further notice.

Bruce Ward and Don Davis's executions were scheduled to begin Monday at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. respectively, but that plan has been put into question as the Arkansas Attorney General's office fights multiple legal challenges - including a judge staying Ward's execution after his lawyer said he was not mentally competent to face capital punishment. He ran twice unsuccessfully for state Supreme Court - including a bid for chief justice in 2004. Ward's lawyers had argued he is a paranoid schizophrenic incapable of comprehending his death, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The state has appealed the ruling, which blocked a plan to execute eight men in 11 days in four double executions, starting Monday night.

The federal court overturned U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's decision to halt the executions over the use of a controversial lethal injection drug, but the state Supreme Court's rulings remain in place.

Also on Friday, a state judge, Wendell Griffen of Pulaski County, blocked use of vercuronium bromide, one of the drugs used in the state's three-drug lethal-injection cocktail, NBC News reports.

The high court's decision came after the state filed an emergency petition asking to have Judge Griffen removed from the case, saying his behavior "makes it crystal clear that he can not be considered impartial in matters related to the death penalty".

The complaint requests that Judge Griffen be removed from the case and his temporary restraining order stopping the scheduled executions be lifted.

The states also asks the court to remove Griffen from the case because they argue that Griffen can't be "considered remotely impartial" on the death penalty due to his actions on Friday.

This was just the latest setback for the state's plan to execute eight prisoners before its supply of the sedative midazolam expires at the end of the month. This has led officials to believe he can not be impartial when it comes to death penalty cases. She added that the men had "shown a significant possibility that they will succeed on the merits of their method of execution claims based on midazolam".

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The court said it would reassign the judge's case and refer the incident to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission "to consider whether he has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct". The federal judge, however, provided officials with an opportunity to address her concerns at a hearing on Monday. The state has no means of replacing the drug in the foreseeable future, essentially stalling executions for an unknown period of time.

In a response filed with the court late on Saturday, State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that all of the issues raised by the condemned inmates had been previously and litigated.

"It is unfortunate that a US district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice", said Judd Deere, a spokesman for the office.

According to drugs.com, midazolam is a sedative in the benzodiazepine family that "may cause severe breathing problems (eg, respiratory depression, respiratory arrest), especially when used for sedation in noncritical care settings".

"In the modern history of the death penalty, no state has ever attempted to carry out this many executions in this short a timeframe", Robert Dunham, president of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Time.

Protesters started flooding the state capitol in Little Rock on Friday to urge Hutchinson to block the executions. A spokesman for Rutledge initially said the motion was rejected Monday, but he later said that was incorrect and the state had simply not yet acted on it.

Arkansas employs potassium chloride in combination with vecuronium bromide and midazolam.

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