A medical supply company that accused Arkansas of misleadingly obtaining a lethal injection drug wants to drop its lawsuit and is asking a state judge to vacate his order blocking an unprecedented plan to execute eight men by the end of the month.
Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court also blocked the execution of Bruce Ward.
Her ruling covers nine inmates: six set to die this month, two who had earlier received temporary stays of execution and one whose death had yet to be scheduled.
Asa Hutchinson scheduled the executions to take place before the state's supply of its lethal injection drug expire at the end of the month. He also said that if state officials objected, they were welcome to appear on Tuesday morning - a day after the first scheduled execution - or could make an application for an earlier hearing.
Nationwide, half of Americans are in favor of the death penalty, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, but public support has declined since the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) reinstated capital punishment.
The series of legal roadblocks constitute a major setback for Arkansas's Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, who had pushed for the accelerated executions as the expiration of the state's supply of midazolam drew near.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, in a 101-page ruling, found the state's plan would deny the inmates their legal rights by depriving them of adequate counsel because prison officials allow only a single lawyer to be present for any execution. "Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed".
Drug companies have recently joined the fray, with two manufacturers filing a brief this week arguing that the state had improperly obtained their drugs and planned to use them. Baker stated that the use midazolam in executions is likely unconstitutional, citing previous botched executions using midazolam in Alabama, Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma, according to the Associated Press.
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Griffen's order was issued the same day he was reported to be among those demonstrating at a vigil related to the executions.
The ruling on Saturday by a federal court in Little Rock threatens that plan, as did an order on Friday by an Arkansas state judge. Some states have barred the use of the drug, and courts have reached different decisions on what inmates would have to do to suggest alternative means of execution.
"As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case", said Judd Deere, spokesman for the attorney general.
The state Attorney General's Office said it would seek to have Griffen's order overturn in the state Supreme Court.
The state initially planned to execute eight inmates, but in the past two weeks, stays were issued for two of the men.
"When I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I knew I couldn't live with myself if I didn't come back and try to do something", Echols said Friday.
Two other drug companies, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp., filed a brief in US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas arguing contracts prohibit their products from being used in executions, which run "counter to the manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives".
"Without the medical license, and the associated tacit representation that the controlled drug would only be used for a legitimate medical goal, McKesson would not have sold the vecuronium to ADC", the company said in its lawsuit.