Federal judge issues order to block Arkansas executions

Strapping himself to a gurney - Griffen imitated the lethal injection executions.

In a response filed with the court late on Saturday, State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that all of the issues raised by the condemned inmates had been previously and litigated. The Arkansas Supreme Court was a buzz Saturday, though we don't know why.

The challenges were filed by eight death row prisoners scheduled to be executed by the end of April - the fastest pace of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Courts in that southern state have blocked those executions for now, as legal appeals continue.

Actor Johnny Depp greets someone as he walks to the podium to speak at a rally opposing Arkansas' upcoming executions, which are set to begin next week, on the front steps of the Capitol Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

Also weighing in was Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun whose work with a death row inmate was profiled in the 1995 movie "Dead Man Walking", who blasted the Arkansas "killing spree" in a series of weekend tweets. (The third is potassium chloride.) According to the pharmaceutical distributor McKesson Corporation, the state bought a supply of vecuronium bromide in July, despite the distributors' efforts to prevent it from being used to induce death.

Arkansas's original packed schedule would place added pressure on the execution team, increasing the risk of error, critics say.

Manufacturers object to states using their drugs in executions, and the Arkansas Department of Corrections said in previous court filings that it doesn't have a way of obtaining more of the sedative midazolam.

The medical supply company has said ADC purchased the drug, believing it would be used for medical purposes only.

Lawyers for all of the convicts have asked a federal court in Little Rock to block the executions, arguing the state's rush to the death chamber was unconstitutional and reckless.

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Another federal judge and the state Supreme Court had already granted stays to two of the eight inmates, reducing the number of executions to six within an 11-day period.

"The court is mindful of the fact that the state of Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, despite consistent support for capital punishment for Arkansawyers and their elected representatives", Baker wrote.

"It is past time for the victims' families to see justice for the frightful murders of their loved ones", Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Saturday.

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.

Upon Judge Griffen of Pulaski County granted the drug distributor's temporary restraining order -- which ultimately halted the executions - he went to the Governor's mansion to protest.

The first two executions were slated to be carried out Monday, but it's unlikely those will happen unless the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals quickly vacates a preliminary injunction issued Saturday by U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker.

The company said the Arkansas prison system failed to return a supply of the drug when it learned the state meant to use it for executions, a violation of an understanding between the two, according to McKesson.

Executions in the U.S. have fallen steadily for years, hitting their lowest level in 2016 - partly because the drugs used in lethal injection have become so hard to obtain.

Hutchinson put the execution spree into play because one of the drugs used for executions, Midazolam, is set to expire at the end of April, the BBC reports.

Griffen, a Pulaski County circuit judge, ruled against the state because of a dispute over how the state obtained one of its execution drugs.

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