LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – A federal judge on Saturday blocked Arkansas’ aggressive plan to execute seven inmates by lethal injection this week, following a flood of legal challenges in federal and state courts.
Arkansas was set to begin putting seven prisoners to death – some in pairs – in the span of 11 days between April 17 and 27. Lawyers for the inmates argued in Little Rock federal court last week that the state’s hurried schedule and execution protocol amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a 101-page ruling Saturday, finding the plan would unreasonably restrict the inmates’ rights to counsel and access to the courts.
“Based on the evidence presented in the parties’ filings and at the hearing, the court finds that there is a significant possibility that plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their Eighth Amendment challenge to Arkansas’s lethal injection protocol,” Baker wrote in the ruling.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the executions to take place before the state’s supply of a key drug expires at the end of April. Attorneys for the state argued in court documents that a temporary stay “would effectively commute these prisoners’ death sentences.”
“It is past time for the victims’ families to see justice for the horrible murders of their loved ones,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Saturday. “My office will continue to respond to all legal challenges that might occur.”
On Friday, a state judge granted a pharmaceutical company’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from using the drug vecuronium bromide in its executions.
“Unless this court takes immediate action, plaintiff’s property will be used by the defendants and cannot be returned to plaintiff,” Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen wrote in the order.
McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. argued in a lawsuit Friday that the Arkansas Department of Corrections had illegally obtained the drug and that its use in executions would damage the company’s reputation.
The day before, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. filed a friend-of-the-court brief, saying their drugs weren’t intended to be used in lethal injections.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday in Little Rock.