Lawyers: Don't rush Arkansas executions decision

The state had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days before its execution sedative midazolam reaches its expiration date.

The story of the Arkansas eight - Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Stacey E Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones Jr, Marcel Williams, Jason F McGehee and Kenneth Williams - is now a key strand of the broader death penalty debate.

The state Supreme Court reassigned the cases from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen days after he participated in the anti-death penalty demonstration outside the governor's mansion.

On Wednesday (April 12), the death row inmate made the court filing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable as an execution drug, saying it is not a painkiller and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In a report released by the group, each one of the convicted Arkansas murders has problems - including intellectual disabilities, mental illness and childhood trauma - that might preclude them from the death penalty. The drug, which is used to stop the inmate's breathing, is one of three drugs used in the state's execution cocktail.

Check back with Arkansas Online for updates on this developing story and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

State attorneys have appealed most of the orders blocking executions, including Ward's stay.

On Saturday morning, the Attorney General's office filed an emergency petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that Griffen be removed from the case and his temporary restraining order be lifted. Ward was one of originally eight inmates scheduled to die through lethal injection at the end of April.

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.

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McKesson on Saturday filed a motion to vacate the order and dismiss the suit, both with the circuit court and the state Supreme Court. "As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case", said spokesman for the attorney general, Judd Deere.

"We are calling on state officials to accept the federal court's decision, cancel the frantic execution schedule, and propose a legal and humane method to carry out its executions". "The threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs is significant: If midazolam does not adequately anesthetize plaintiffs, or if their executions are 'botched, ' they will suffer severe pain before they die", Judge Baker wrote.

The Arkansas Department of Correction is still planning as if at least one execution will happen.

Governor Asa Hutchinson had scheduled the first two of seven executions for Monday night. "Equity should, therefore, not permit Appellees to deliberately manipulate the judicial process to evade justice".

The judge also faulted the state's policy of not letting lawyers have access to the inmates at the time of their deaths and said the inmates could raise challenges about the drugs to be used.

Justice had always been denied to "victims and their loved ones", the motion states.

LITTLE ROCK - Lawyers for inmates facing a series of double executions in Arkansas say a federal appeals court should schedule oral arguments as it considers whether to dissolve or preserve the execution stays imposed by a lower court judge. The companies did not disclose which of their drugs Arkansas will use during the executions.

Judge Kristine Baker of Federal District Court in Little Rock, AK, on Saturday blocked Arkansas from carrying out up to seven executions this month.

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.