Sunday, 21 January, 2018

Arkansas vows to keep pushing for executions despite setback

Arkansas Department of Correction via AP File Don Davis Arkansas Department of Correction via AP File Don Davis
Alfredo Watts | 21 April, 2017, 18:20

Arkansas, which last carried out an execution a dozen years ago, has sought to resume capital punishment this month with a plan that originally called for putting eight inmates to death by lethal injection in 11 days.

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 US Constitution. A medical supply company said it was misled by the state and that the drug was sold for medical purposes, not executions.

"A drug's expiration date should not be the contingent factor for the expedited execution of these eight men", Catholic Mobilizing Network stated.

"It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed", said Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in a statement. 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.

"It is understandable that the inmates are taking every step possible to avoid the sentence of the jury; however, it is the court's responsibility to administer justice and bring conclusion to litigation", Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

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.

April 18 US drug wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc sued Arkansas a second time on Tuesday, saying the state acted fraudulently in obtaining a drug it intends to administer in a record number of executions this month and demanding it not use the batch to kill people. In fact, it was his second "last meal", the first coming in 2010 before his execution was stayed at the last minute.

Last week, Wendell Griffen, a federal judge, blocked the state from using vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant that causes paralysis, after several pharmaceutical companies filed briefs questioning how Arkansas obtained their lethal injection drugs. But that ruling was overturned on Monday by a federal appeals court.

There are also two executions scheduled for April 24 and one scheduled for April 27.

On Monday the state Supreme Court also vacated Griffen's temporary restraining order effectively blocking the eight executions.

The judge determined that their concerns were sufficient to halt the executions for the time being, to allow the issue to be considered by the courts. If taken by the country's highest court, the justices would have to give a more definitive answer about the controversial drug midazolam - the first drug in Arkansas's lethal injection cocktail.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled that judge, stating in its opinion that there's only "equivocal evidence" that midazolam will raise the risk of a painful execution.

The inmates' legal team urged a three-judge panel to avoid a "rushed analysis of this complex record". A stay was earlier placed on Ward's sentence by an Arkansas court.

(Stephen B. Thornton/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP).

As the legal battle plays out, the state's execution facility is readying for a rapid reversal of the decisions.

Volunteer witnesses had been moved to the execution chamber while local media organizations - who were not allowed pens, paper or any recording devices - waited nearby in prison vans.

Opponents of the death penalty insisted that Arkansas was unjustly rushing its execution process and clamored for a halt to the executions. The state was rushing to win approval to execute Davis before his death warrant expired at midnight.