The highest courts in Arkansas and the USA could put the executions back on track, but for now Arkansas faces an uphill battle to put any inmate to death before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires.
McKesson, the country's largest drug distributor, has gone further, seeking to block the state from using vecuronium bromide, a third drug, and accusing Arkansas of obtaining it under false pretenses.
On Wednesday, a state circuit judge blocked the use of another of the drugs Arkansas acquired for lethal injections, after USA pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide under false pretences. McKesson Corp., a medical supply company, said the state misleadingly bought the drug and that it wasn't intended for executions.
Arkansas says one of two executions scheduled for Thursday night won't go ahead.
Four of the eight inmates have received stays on unrelated issues. In fact, the court ordered Griffin removed from all death penalty cases after photos emerged of him participating in a rally against the executions.
Justices also denied an attempt by makers of midazolam and potassium chloride - the two other drugs in Arkansas' execution plan - to intervene in McKesson's fight over the vecuronium bromide.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the eight executions to take place before the state's supply of midazolam expires April 30.
This story has been corrected to show that the inmate's name is Ledell Lee, not Lendell Lee. Their one-paragraph order did not elaborate on why.
Pending before the US Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight inmates, who contend the compressed execution schedule increased the likelihood of a botched execution and that one of the three drugs, midazolam, has been proven ineffective in rendering unconsciousness prior to administration of the two lethal agents. They say there is a public health risk if their drugs are diverted for use in executions, and that the state's possession of the drugs violates rules within their distribution networks.
Circuit Judge Alice Gray has stopped the state's use of vecuronium bromide until she can determine the rightful owner.
According to McKesson, the Arkansas Department of Corrections deceived the company to purchase the drug, promised to return it and was given a refund - only to reverse course, refuse to hand over the drug and keep the refund. Another state judge granted such an order last week, but he was quickly criticized by Rutledge and others for attending a death-penalty protest the same day and was removed from the case by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which vacated his order.
The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice a year ago after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her. Under Arkansas' protocol, executioners would administer 100 mg, or more than 11 times the typical dose, five minutes after the midazolam is administered and once the inmate is unconscious.
Arkansas inmates set for a series of executions before the end of the month have filed a new request for stays.
In court papers filed Thursday, they say any new judges assigned to their cases in a state court at Little Rock should have time to become familiar with their pleadings.
On Friday, a different Pulaski County judge issued a similar ruling on vecuronium bromide.
Lawyers for the state of Arkansas are trying to light a fire under a judge who has been slow to file written paperwork involving a death penalty case. She wants to hold a hearing later on who really owns them - the state of Arkansas or a medical supply company that says it mistakenly provided them to the state prison system.
While the latest court rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires. Arkansas had initially scheduled eight inmates to die over an 11-day period in April - the fastest pace of executions in decades. Wave after wave of legal challenges followed.
But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections.
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