Arkansas could still end up going forward with its plans to execute 8 men in the next 11 days, even after judges blocked the plan several days ago.
Federal District Court Judge Kristine Baker ruled on Saturday to halt the state’s plan to execute 6 inmates (the execution of two others had been stayed in other rulings).
The state had been trying to execute the men before the end of April to prevent a supply of lethal execution drug from going to waste.
“The Governor himself has admitted that this execution schedule is designed around the expiration date [of the drug],” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Business Insider. “That’s not a principled basis to schedule executions.”
With the first two executions scheduled for Monday night, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge immediately filed an appeal with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the decision.
“They know that there’s a warrant issued and they know that the first set of executions is set for tonight,” Tiffany Murphy, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, told Business Insider. She added that it’s possible for the court to issue a ruling as early as tonight.
The former director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project, Murphy fought against Oklahoma’s execution of Clayton Lockett. Lockett was executed with the same combination of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride to be used in Arkansas, and suffered a heart attack more than 40 minutes after being sedated.
“It went wrong in every way it could have potentially gone wrong,” said Murphy, adding that Oklahoma has since issued a report advising against using that cocktail of drugs.
Dunham too pointed out that there are issues with the drug combination, pointing out that medizolam is a sedative rather than an anesthetic and can cause the inmates unnecessary pain.
“If something goes wrong, I don’t think we can describe it as a botch any more,” said Dunham.
The pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs are fighting back too. Pfizer, Fresenius, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, and the drug wholesaler McKesson have all spoken out against the use of their drugs in executions in Arkansas and elsewhere.
McKesson, the drug wholesaler that sold the vecuronium bromide to Arkansas DOC, refunded the money to the state and issued a temporary restraining order against the DOC from using the drug in lethal injections.
Governor Asa Hutchinson, who signed the executive order for the executions in February, has said previously in a statement that “it is uncertain as to whether another drug can be obtained.”
In the appeals brief, Rutledge and Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky said that the federal court’s decision did not come from sufficient scientific evidence and “resorted […] on a few anecdotal accounts of executions in other states.”
The appeals court is facing additional pressure to review the appeal quickly amid Hutchinon’s calls to “expedite the reviews” in time for their self-appointed schedule.
“The last-minute theatrics that we’re seeing with these executions are entirely a product of the execution schedule that Arkansas has deliberately chosen,” said Dunham.
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