Published: Tue, April 18, 2017
Research | By Elizabeth Houston

Arkansas Pushes To Carry Out Executions, Fighting Court Rulings And The Clock

Griffen's participation in Friday's protest outside the governor's mansion sparked outrage among death penalty supporters, including Republican lawmakers who described it as judicial misconduct and potential grounds for Griffen's removal from the bench. A spokesman for the attorney general said Monday the request had been denied but later retracted the comment and said the request was pending, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. If court proceedings are pushed into May, it won't be able to carry out the executions with the drugs it has on hand.

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. 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.

The state has appealed both rulings and asked the higher courts to work quickly to review the decisions.

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.

The state adopted its protocol to use midazlolam, one of the three drugs in the state's lethal cocktail, in 2015. In recent years, the drug's use in lethal injections has been intensely debated after it was utilized in a bungled execution in Oklahoma (which officials later blamed on a misplaced IV) and unusually prolonged executions that, in some cases, saw inmates gasping for breath in Ohio, Arizona and, in December, Alabama. While saying she "does not doubt the good faith" of Arkansas corrections officials, Baker wrote that they do not have a plan in place regarding whether any executions should be canceled or postponed if there are complications.

"The state also cites Griffen's personal blog where he states, "[The state] plan to use medication designed for treating and healing disease to kill men". The company, along with other pharmaceutical makers, objects to its drug being used in executions.

Arkansas solicitor general Lee Rudofsky countered by telling the 8th Circuit that the inmates are simply trying to run out the clock - "blatantly attempting to manipulate the judicial system and shield themselves from justice".

State officials, in a filing Saturday, said that an order preventing them from using the vecuronium bromide would essentially halt all of the executions, noting that they have been unable to obtain more.

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During a press conference in February, Hutchinson defended his actions, saying it wasn't his "choice" to schedule the executions so close together.

"The current schedule does not conform to the standards followed in a civilized society", they wrote.

"I understand how hard this is on the victims' families, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the continued court review; however, the last minute court reviews are all part of the hard process of death penalty cases", he said in a statement Saturday. Davis, 54, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1992 for killing Jane Daniel. The Supreme Court also found the inmate challenging midazolam had "failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain". A relative of Daniel's declined to be interviewed.

The state has not said whether it will appeal a federal judge's decision to grant a stay to another inmate, Jason McGehee, who had won a clemency recommendation from the state Parole Board. After his lethal injection, the state meant to execute Bruce Ward, 60, who was sentenced to death in October 1990 after being convicted of killing Rebecca Doss, an 18-year-old convenience store clerk.

Bruce Earl Ward and Don William Davis Jr. were scheduled to die Monday night in the first two of eight executions over 11 days.

Ward's attorneys say he's a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution.

People gather at a rally opposing the state's upcoming executions, on the front steps of Arkansas' Capitol, Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

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