Weekend legal wranglings complicate execution schedule

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 364 views 

On Saturday, a flurry of legal maneuvers altered Arkansas’ execution schedule for seven inmates, but more filings and rulings are expected that could maintain, delay or end the death row cases.

Saturday morning, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction that stayed the executions for eight potential death row inmates. By Saturday evening, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge countered with an emergency motion to vacate the stay of execution and preliminary injunction.

“Appellees have a long history of filing and dismissing claims to manipulate the judicial process and prevent Arkansas from carrying out their executions. This case — which is identical to Appellees’ multiple previous challenges to Arkansas’s three-drug (midazolam) lethal-injection protocol—is just the latest iteration,” the filing states.

Rutledge’s motion request also contends that the state’s supply of midazolam, a drug used in the lethal injection cocktail, will expire by the end of April thus preventing the executions from taking place. “Immediate reversal is warranted,” she stated.

In another legal move, Rutledge’s office filed notice with the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider its order that granted inmate Bruce Ward’s motion for a stay of execution. Ward is the first scheduled execution planned for Monday, April 17.

On Friday, the state’s high court issued a stay for that execution but offered no reason why. Ward’s attorneys have argued that he is mentally incompetent to be executed.

Not knowing the Supreme Court’s rationale for issuing the stay, Rutledge’s emergency motion attempted to address several potential arguments for why Ward’s execution should not be delayed. As it relates to his mental condition, the filing states, “While “[p]rior findings of competency do not foreclose a prisoner from proving he is incompetent to be executed because of his present mental condition[,], the state may presume that a prisoner who has been judged competent to stand trial remains sane at the time the sentence is to be carried out.”

A final legal curveball came from a Pulaski County circuit court decision on Friday afternoon. Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to halt all of the executions scheduled after a drug manufacturer, McKesson Corp., said the state deceptively obtained one of its drugs that the manufacturer did not want used in the execution process.

On Saturday, Rutledge’s office responded to the suit asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to block the TRO as well as remove Griffen from the case due to his bias against the death penalty. Judge Griffen had visibly participated in a protest against the executions at the Governor’s Mansion just hours before issuing his order.

Rutledge’s high court request in the matter may have been moot. Later on Saturday, McKesson filed a motion to “nonsuit the complaint,” which would effectively withdraw the lawsuit. McKesson officials suggested that the federal preliminary injunction issued by Judge Baker addressed its concerns. For now, the TRO remains in place, but could be lifted on Monday.

“The Attorney General is pleased that McKesson Medical-Surgical has requested to vacate the Temporary Restraining Order and dismiss their case. Based on this filing to end the case, the State Supreme Court should act soon to vacate Judge Griffen’s order, allowing the Arkansas Department of Correction to use the drug for executions,” said AG Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere.

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