Arkansas fights on multiple legal fronts to begin executions

Judge Baker embraced arguments by the eight prisoners whose executions had been scheduled, plus one other death row inmate, that the state's reliance on midazolam, as an execution drug posed a risk to their constitutional rights.

The same day, he issued a temporary restraining order delaying the state's plan to execute eight prisoners from April 17-27.

Ward's execution was granted a stay on Friday by the Supreme Court.

The Arkansas Supreme Court said judges should act to maintain public confidence in their independence and impartiality, but did not mention Griffen's participation in the protests. Ward's lawyers had argued he is a paranoid schizophrenic incapable of comprehending his death, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

"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 latter drug is meant to render the inmate unconscious before the other two chemicals are administered to paralyze the lungs and stop the heart. The high court asked a disciplinary panel to consider whether Griffen violated the code of conduct for judges.

As the legal battle plays out, the state's execution facility is readying for a rapid reversal of the decisions. 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. Arkansas hasn't carried out a double execution since 1999.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge did not say where she would seek a review, but she could ask either the Arkansas Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court for one.

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The orders by the various judges barred the state from carrying out the executions, including two planned for Monday night.

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. Arkansas' supply of one of its three lethal injection drugs, midazolam, expires April 30 and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he wants to use the drugs before they spoil.

The fight in Arkansas, which has not held an execution in 12 years, came after US executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016 and as several capital-punishment states have been sidelined due to problems with lethal injection drugs and legal questions over their protocols.

"Multiple executions are likely to result in mental health problems for those involved in the execution process", they wrote Monday.

The judge determined that their concerns were sufficient to halt the executions for the time being, to allow the issue to be considered by the courts. That would be the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that monitors U.S. capital punishment.

In its request that the 8th Circuit review whether the inmates should be spared because of society's "evolving standards of decency", the inmates lawyers say that even the executioners could benefit if Arkansas used a less-compressed timetable. But U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued stays Saturday so the inmates could pursue a claim that they could suffer "severe pain". They say in their filings that the stays should be reversed immediately so Arkansas can carry out the executions before one of its lethal injection drugs expires at the end of the month.

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