Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas' Execution Spree
Judge Kristine G. Baker argued that the state's reliance on the execution drug midazolam threatens the plaintiffs constitutional rights
A federal judge on Saturday issued an injunction blocking Arkansas from its rush to carry out 6 executions in less than two weeks, siding with the plaintiffs who argued that the "assembly line" killings could subject inmates to a torturous and botched execution.
Eight inmates were initially slated for the mass execution, set to begin on Monday, but on Friday the Arkansas Supreme Court granted an emergency stay in the scheduled execution of 60-year-old Bruce Earl Ward. Last week, a federal judge issued a stay on the execution of inmate Jason McGehee after the parole board recommended he be eligible for clemency.
Judge Kristine G. Baker of Federal District Court in Little Rock issued the 101-page order on Saturday morning. In her ruling, she argued that the state's reliance on the execution drug midazolam threatens the plaintiffs constitutional rights.
"The state of Arkansas does not intend to torture plaintiffs to death," Baker wrote. "However, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is not limited to inherently barbaric punishments. A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her execution by showing that the state's method 'creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain' and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.'"
As Common Dreams previously reported, The short time frame for the state-sanctioned killings, according to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, is because of the end-of-the-month expiration date on the state's supply of midazolam.
Midazolam, a sedative, has a grisly record when combined with other drugs for a lethal injection "cocktail," which Baker acknowledged in her order, writing: "The threat of irreparable harm to the plaintiffs is significant: If midazolam does not adequately anesthetize plaintiffs, or if their executions are 'botched,' they will suffer severe pain before they die."
Drug companies have also recently joined the suit against the state, arguing that "[t]he use of their medicines for lethal injections violates contractual supply-chain controls that the Manufacturers have implemented" and that "[t]he use of their medicines for lethal injections [..] creates a public-health risk because it could result in the denial of medicines from patients who need them most."
Reacting to the news, the ACLU of Arkansas wrote on Twitter that it would "keep fighting to stop the #8in10."