Judge's anti-death penalty protest riles conservatives

Federal judge issues injunction to block Arkansas executions

A federal judge Saturday blocked Arkansas' plan to execute six inmates over the course of ten days.

The vigil and march could be reinstated, as Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state of Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005 due to drug shortages and legal challenges. Griffen, who served 12 years on the state appeals court, previously battled with the panel over remarks he made criticizing President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

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.

A federal judge has halted Arkansas' already compromised plan to execute several inmates over an 11-day period starting next week.

Johnny Depp appeared in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Friday, to lend his support to protesters opposing executions in the state.

Attorneys for the seven Arkansas inmates facing lethal injection by the end of the month are asking the state Supreme Court to halt their executions.

While she rejected some of the inmates' arguments, Baker said there was a significant possibility that the inmates could successfully challenge the state's execution protocol based on other arguments.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified they must conduct the executions with their current batch of midazolam, a sedative that is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts.

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The pharmaceutical company that filed a lawsuit and succeeded in halting Arkansas' planned executions is now seeking to dismiss that same suit.

Last week, the suppliers of the three drugs used in Arkansas' executions - midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - said in court filings that Arkansas skirted company rules to acquire the drugs. Griffen granted the order after McKesson Medical-Surgical, which does not want its product used in executions, petitioned to stop the state on the grounds that the drug had been misleadingly obtained. The company said a temporary restraining order issued by a Pulaski County judge preventing Arkansas from using the drug is no longer necessary now that a federal judge has halted the state's executions, which were set to begin Monday.

"The unnecessarily compressed execution schedule using the risky drug midazolam denies prisoners their right to be free from the risk of torture", he said in a statement.

US District Court Judge Kristine Baker [official profile] on Saturday issued a temporary injunction [text, PDF] blocking Arkansas' plan to execute seven inmates by the end of the month.

The judge also faulted the state's policy of not letting lawyers have access to the inmates at the time of their deaths and said the inmates could raise challenges about the drugs to be used. The Arkansas Supreme Court has yet to take action in that case, which is otherwise scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in circuit court, the morning after the first of the executions are scheduled to begin.

"The setting of four executions within 10 days is gruesome and brutal", Catholic Sister Joan Pytlik told the Arkansas Catholic. "We are calling on state officials to accept the federal court's decision, cancel the frantic execution schedule, and propose a legal and humane method to carry out its executions".

That judge, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, has come under fire for taking part in anti-death penalty protests the same day after issuing his order stopping the use of the drug.

While regular church services were planned for the holiday, many residents in the capital had been also expecting to attend a special vigil for the condemned later Sunday evening at Little Rock's Trinity Cathedral - which was supposed conclude with a march to the governor's mansion.

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