A federal judge dealt another blow today to Arkansas' unprecedented plan to execute eight inmates in an 11-day period, saying the men have the right to challenge a drug protocol that could expose them to "severe pain."
The state still hopes to begin the executions Monday and the attorney general's office promised an appeal to overturn US Kristine Baker's order. Arkansas' supply of one of its lethal injection drugs, midazolam, expires April 30 and Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he wants to use the drugs before they spoil.
Manufacturers object to states using their drugs in executions, and the Arkansas Department of Corrections has said in court filings that it doesn't have a way of obtaining more midazolam.
In a separate case Friday, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state from using a paralyzing drug, vecuronium bromide, made by a company that claims Arkansas obtained it under false pretenses.
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.
Only Texas has executed six prisoners in a shorter timeframe since the US Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976.
In her order, Baker said there was a significant possibility that the inmates could successfully challenge the state's execution protocol. She said that while the state demonstrated it does not plan to torture the inmates, the inmates had a right to challenge the method of execution in an attempt to show it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain."
She also noted that the execution team did not have antidotes on hand in case there was trouble with any of the drugs.
"The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern," she wrote.
The Arkansas attorney general's office said the decision strayed from previous cases before the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court.
"It is unfortunate that a US district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last- minute attempts to delay justice," said Judd Deere, an office spokesman.
"Attorney General (Leslie) Rutledge plans to immediately appeal to the Eighth Circuit and ask that today's injunction imposed by the district court be lifted.