Ar­kan­sas fights or­ders block­ing 8 executions

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

A last-minute spate of court or­ders has de­railed Ar­kan­sas’ un­prece­dented eight-men-in-11-days ex­e­cu­tion sched­ule, send­ing the state into a race against the clock to re­verse the rul­ings be­fore a key lethal in­jec­tion drug ex­pires April 30.

No­body was busier over the week­end than Ar­kan­sas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge, who filed ap­peals Satur­day chal­leng­ing three court de­ci­sions that tem­po­rar­ily blocked executions to in­mates sched­uled to die by lethal in­jec­tion from April 17-27.

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 judge based her in­junc­tion in part on con­cerns raised about the pos­si­bil­ity of “se­vere pain” from the state’s three-drug pro­to­col, which in­cludes the soon-to-ex­pire seda­tive mi­da­zo­lam, while Ms. Rut­ledge ar­gued that the in­mates had pre­vi­ously lit­i­gated that is­sue and lost.

The court “dis­re­garded the fact that de­lay­ing Ap­pellees’ executions by even a few days — un­til af­ter Ar­kan­sas’ sup­ply of mi­da­zo­lam runs out — will make it im­pos­si­ble for Ar­kan­sas to carry out Ap­pellees’ just and law­ful sen­tences,” the state said in its 27-page emer­gency mo­tion.

Mean­while, the bat­tle for pub­lic opin­ion over the state’s rapid timetable con­tin­ued to rage. Foes of the death penalty held a rally Fri­day at the state capi­tol in Lit­tle Rock, fea­tur­ing ac­tor Johnny Depp, urg­ing Ar­kan­sas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son to halt the executions.

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.

“Easter cel­e­bra­tion in Ar­kan­sas @AGRut­ledge’s of­fice in­cludes fight­ing to kill pris­on­ers,” Sis­ter Pre­jean said in a Sun­day tweet.

Hutchin­son spokesman J.R. Davis fired back af­ter Sis­ter Pre­jean tweeted, “Je­sus was a con­victed crim­i­nal ex­e­cuted by the state.”

Mr. Davis de­nounced the com­par­i­son be­tween Je­sus and the eight con­victed mur­der­ers as “sorely dis­ap­point­ing,” adding that, “I be­lieve the killing spree you con­tinue to ref­er­ence was com­mit­ted by the 8 you are fight­ing for.”

Mr. Hutchin­son said Satur­day that he had “con­fi­dence in the at­tor­ney gen­eral and her team to ex­pe­dite the re­views.”

“When I set the eight ex­e­cu­tion dates in ac­cor­dance with the law and my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, I was fully aware that the ac­tions would trig­ger both the clemency hear­ings and sep­a­rate court re­views on vary­ing claims by the death row in­mates,” Mr. Hutchin­son said in a state­ment.

“I un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult this is on the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the con­tin­ued court re­views; how­ever, the last-minute court re­views are all part of the dif­fi­cult process of death penalty cases,” said Mr. Hutchin­son, a Repub­li­can.

Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Court Judge Wendell Grif­fen is­sued a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der Fri­day to stop the executions, even though he par­tic­i­pated in two protests against the death penalty the same day. At one point, he had him­self strapped to a cot in a sim­u­la­tion of an in­mate be­ing put to death.

The next day, how­ever, Ms. Rut­ledge caught a break when the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany be­hind the Pu­laski County law­suit, McKes­son Med­i­cal Sur­gi­cal Inc., filed to dis­miss the case af­ter the is­suance of the fed­eral in­junc­tion.

The third ap­peal filed by Ms. Rut­ledge stems from the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court’s stay of ex­e­cu­tion on be­half of in­mate Bruce Earl Ward, whose at­tor­neys ar­gued that he is schiz­o­phrenic and un­fit to be put to death.

An­other in­mate, Ja­son McGe­hee, was granted a tem­po­rary re­prieve this month based on due process con­cerns af­ter the state pa­role board rec­om­mended clemency.

That left six executions still on track un­til Satur­day’s fed­eral in­junc­tion. In her rul­ing, Judge Baker said she is­sued the or­der based on the in­mates’ chal­lenges to the pri­son view­ing poli­cies and the state’s “method of ex­e­cu­tion.”

The pris­on­ers had ar­gued that the drug pro­to­col vi­o­lated the Eighth Amend­ment pro­hi­bi­tion on cruel and un­usual pun­ish­ment.

“The threat of ir­repara­ble harm to plain­tiffs is sig­nif­i­cant: if mi­da­zo­lam does not ad­e­quately anes­thetize plain­tiffs, or if their executions are ‘botched,’ they will suf­fer se­vere pain be­fore they die,” Judge Baker said in her 101-page or­der.

The doses of mi­da­zo­lam ex­pire at the end of the month, with no guar­an­tee that the state will be able to re­plen­ish its sup­ply in the near fu­ture, given the rise in the num­ber of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies no longer will­ing to pro­vide drugs used for executions.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral ar­gued in her ap­peal that the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court had al­ready ruled against the “cruel and un­usual” chal­lenge, say­ing that the lat­est law­suit seeks to “re­lit­i­gate that same claim.”

Sen. Tom Cot­ton, Ar­kan­sas Repub­li­can, called on res­i­dents to sup­port the gover­nor “as he car­ries out sen­tences im­posed by [a] jury of mur­der­ers’ peers.”

“These are [the] tough calls we elected him to make!” Mr. Cot­ton said on Twit­ter.


Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Judge Wendell Grif­fen took part in a protest against the death penalty on the same day he is­sued a tem­po­rary re­strain­ing or­der.

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