Court blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug

Posted at 7:34 PM, Apr 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-14 22:20:30-04

By Ralph Ellis

(CNN) — A judge on Friday stopped Arkansas from using a drug in the executions of six men scheduled to die by lethal injection starting Monday.

The drug company argued the drug, vercuronium bromide, wasn’t supposed to be used for capital punishment. Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from using its supply of the drug.

It’s unclear what effect the ruling will have on the state’s plans to execute the men.

The state originally wanted to execute eight men between April 17 and April 27, before its supply of a lethal injection drug expires at the end of April.

Arkansas Attorney General’s Office issued this statement late Friday: “As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case. Attorney General (Leslie) Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible.”

Other drug companies have gone to court to argue that contracts prohibit their products from being used in executions.

Two of the eight executions have already been blocked for other reasons.

A federal judge on April 6 blocked the execution of Jason McGehee. The state’s parole board had earlier voted to recommend that McGehee’s death sentence be commuted to life without parole, and the judge ruled McGehee’s April 27 execution date would not have given the board enough time as required by law in which to notify the governor of its recommendation.

Earlier Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court blocked the execution of Bruce Ward.

Attorneys argued that Ward, 60, should not be executed because he’s mentally incompetent. He’s been on death row since 1990 for strangling a woman in a convenience store bathroom, reported CNN affiliate KARK.

After the Supreme Court decision, Rutledge’s office issued this statement: “Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the state Supreme Court has previously upheld his conviction. The court granted a stay of Ward’s scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so. Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed.”

Ward’s lawyers also issued a statement Friday.

“We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about his sanity. He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that. Instead, they give the power to director of the Department of Corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not. That is both unfair and unconstitutional.

“Mr. Ward’s severe and lifelong schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: He has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it. In fact, he does not believe he will ever be executed and believes he will walk out of prison a free man to great acclaim and riches. His nearly three decades in solitary confinement have only worsened his severe mental illness.”

A report by a Harvard Law School initiative suggests five of the men Arkansas plans to execute, including Ward, are not mentally fit for the death penalty.

According to the report, he told a forensic psychiatrist in 2010 that he hears voices, that he gets revelations directly from God and that he will “walk out of prison to great riches and public acclaim.” He says he’s been visited in prison by his deceased father and “resurrected dogs.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his controversial plan in March to execute eight inmates over a 10-day period starting April 17.

Defense lawyers argued that midazolam — the drug used to render inmates unconscious before they are given two more drugs that paralyze and kill them — does not effectively keep those being executed from experiencing a painful death.

Ward was one of two inmates scheduled to die Monday. The other, Don William Davis, is still scheduled for execution on Monday.

CNN’s Jessica Ravitz and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.