2 inmates seek execution stays from Arkansas high court

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is to talk with reporters Thursday morning about the pending executions of seven death row inmates.

Bruce Earl Ward, seen in an undated mugshot, has been scheduled for execution April 17, 2017.

The US high court is set to hold oral arguments - about whether an indigent defendant on death row was prevented access to an independent expert who could evaluate his mental health - in that case on April 24, a week after the Davis and Ward are scheduled to be put to death. Once the state's current supply of midazolam expires it may prove extremely hard for the state authorities to replace it because of concerns about its role in recent "botched" executions.

The executions - the first in Arkansas in 12 years - are being rushed through before the expiration date in May for the state's supply of midazolam, a controversial sedative that is one of three drugs used in lethal injections. The state reasoned that the fast pace was necessary because one of the lethal injection drugs, midazolam, will expire at the end of the month, and it is unclear when more would be available.

In addition, lethal injection cocktails including midazolam reportedly resulted in problematic executions in Oklahoma, Arizona and other states.

Amnesty International continues to call on Governor Asa Hutchinson to commute all eight death sentences.

Acknowledging his Christian faith and the role it plays in decision-making, Hutchinson said that he has a responsibility to "God and eternity".

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However, both companies say they have put strict controls on supplies and do not know how their products were purchased by officials. Fresenius said its information indicated no sales of its potassium chloride directly or through its authorized distributors to the state's prison system.

"The only conclusion is that these medicines were acquired from an unauthorized seller in violation of important contractual terms that the manufacturers relied on", the companies stated in the court filing. West-Ward's parent Hikma is based in London. The third drug that Arkansas intends to use for the execution, vecuronium bromide, appears to have been made by Hospira, a subsidiary of Pfizer.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor even described using the drug for lethal execution as "what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake".

Attorneys for the state argue that Arkansas does not now have a source to purchase more of the drug from. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker is considering whether the expedited schedule unconstitutionally impacts the inmates' access to effective legal counsel and increases the risk of error by the Department of Correction. The inmates are challenging the compressed execution timetable, as well as the use of midazolam.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis rejected the request Thursday to halt the execution of Bruce Ward, saying she doesn't have the authority to issue a stay.

The state of Arkansas has not carried out an execution in over a decade due to legal challenges and drug shortages.

  • Alfonso Moody