Federal judge blocks Arkansas executions

Ward's execution was blocked in a third, separate legal move from the state Supreme Court, which issued an emergency stay Friday.

Governor Asa Hutchinson has said the state must act quickly because its midazolam supply expires at the end of the month.

Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution. Lawyers for the company said that the blanket stay on executions issued by Saturday morning made the company's suit unnecessary. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker halted the executions over the use of the drug, which has been used in flawed executions in other states, and over the inmates' access to attorneys on the day of the executions.

Arkansas says the drug would be used to calm the inmates to the point that they will not be aware they are about to die.

Arkansas had asked a USA appeals court earlier on Monday to allow the eight executions before the state's lethal-injection drugs expire at the end of April. No state had executed that many individuals in such a short time frame.

Arkansas' attorney general says she will seek an "immediate review" of a state Supreme Court decision that halted two executions set for Monday, though several other legal obstacles remain for the state to carry out its plan.

"I don't think we would have acquired the drugs that we have without that confidentiality agreement", Hutchinson said. 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". The federal judge, however, provided officials with an opportunity to address her concerns at a hearing on Monday.

Later Saturday, Rutledge also asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the blanket stay on executions ordered by Judge Baker, arguing that the case should have been dismissed because the challenge over midazolam had already been addressed in previous court cases. "As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case", said spokesman for the attorney general, Judd Deere. He had been scheduled to die Monday night under the state's plan to put eight inmates to death before the end of the month.

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The secrecy has helped blunt legal challenges over the lethal injection drugs, which states have had trouble obtaining in recent years because manufacturers don't want their drugs used in executions.

That judge, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, has come under fire for taking part in anti-death penalty protests the same day after issuing his order stopping the use of the drug.

Although Arkansas found sources for its three execution drugs, it took 12 days to obtain a new supply of vecuronium bromide and 67 days to replace its potassium chloride supply. The state is also seeking to overturn Judge Griffen's order regarding the state's supply of vecuronium bromide. It said Thursday that it issued Arkansas a refund of its purchase price, but that the drug wasn't returned.

The planned executions - which would be the most carried out in a such a short time since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976 - have prompted widespread protests.

Details about production and transportation of drugs "are vitally relevant to the execution process", Dunham said.

Those included replacing midazolam with a barbituate more likely to render the inmates unconscious; using an inhaled anesthetic at such a high dose that it is the sole drug necessary; pumping nitrogen through a gas mask to deprive an inmate of oxygen; and deploying a firing squad.

As the legal battle plays out, the state's execution facility is prepared for a rapid reversal of the decisions. The court has not ruled on the state's request to reconsider that stay.

Lawyers for the state appealed against the judge's ruling immediately with the hope of beginning the executions today. The state Supreme Court issued a stay for another of the inmates on Friday so that his mental health could be assessed.

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