Arkansas court blocks execution of 2 inmates

AG Rutledge Works to Dismantle Roadblocks to Executions

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The Arkansas Supreme Court has reissued its order that halted the execution of one of the first inmates facing lethal injection under the state's multiple execution plan.

The inmates' attorneys argued that their clients were denied access to independent mental health experts, saying Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability.

"The Attorney General is considering options as to how to proceed", Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said in a statement.

The original plan had two condemned prisoners, Bruce Ward and Don Davis, set to receive lethal injections starting Monday night around 7:00 p.m.

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

Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled eight inmates to die this month - two a night on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays - in order to exhaust the state's supply of the sedative midazolam before it expires.

A new warrant could trigger another clemency hearing, which carries a built-in timeline that would extend beyond this month, Ward's attorneys said Friday. The state has not appealed that decision.

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".

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

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The company that asked Griffen to act, McKesson Corp., sought to drop its lawsuit after U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued her stays on Saturday.

Three Arkansas justices dissented, with Associate Justice Shawn Womack writing that Ward and Davis "had their day in court, the jury spoke, and decades of appeals have occurred".

Deere said he did not "want to speculate" on what action Rutledge's office would take if the appellate court upholds Baker's ruling.

"The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern", she wrote. In his other state Supreme Court race in 2006, Griffen challenged his rival to a debate over the free-speech rights of judges. The state's attorneys are fighting to persuade judges to allow the executions - and to make the decision quickly.

Griffen blocked the use of vercuronium bromide on Friday after McKesson Medical-Surgical alleged the state had duped the company into providing the drug for its executions.

The southern state's stock of midazolam - one of the drugs used in the executions - is due to expire at the end of April, hence the rush to carry out an unprecedented number of lethal injections in a short amount of time. "We continue to call on Governor Hutchinson to use his executive authority to permanently stop this assembly line of death", said James Clark, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA.

Roughly an hour after Judge Griffen issued the temporary restraining order, he could be found lying on a cot in front of the Governor's Mansion protesting against the planned executions. Rutledge's office on Saturday filed an emergency appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In an order issued Sunday night, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey of the Western District of Arkansas denied separate motions filed Wednesday by Davis' attorneys for relief of judgment and a stay of his execution.

"We have never, in my knowledge, been so afraid to admit that people can have personal beliefs yet can follow the law, even when to follow the law means they must place their personal feelings aside", Griffen told The Associated Press on Saturday.

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