Arkansas began preparing two death row inmates for execution on Monday night, despite a flurry of legal challenges attempting to hold back what would be the most intense burst of judicial killing in the USA in more than half a century.
Several courts handed down multiple decisions on Monday and early Tuesday morning, in a complex drama playing out as Arkansas seeks to execute eight men before its supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the lethal injection process, expires at the end of the month.
The US Supreme Court on Monday denied a last-minute request from Arkansas state authorities for permission to carry out its first execution in more than a decade.
Also Monday evening - in yet another piece of litigation surrounding the state's executions - the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated a temporary restraining order that a state trial court judge had entered last week barring the state from using the vecuronium bromide it had purchased from McKesson Medical-Surgical in its executions. The judge, Wendell Griffen, had placed an injunction on all the pending executions after McKesson, a major medical supplier, sued the state for misleading it over the acquisition of one of the lethal injection drugs. The federal defender had asked for the stays while the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to take up a separate case involving the rights of a defendant to have access to independent mental health experts.
Despite those developments, the state Supreme Court voted 4-3 Monday to grant stays for the first two of the eight inmates, Don Davis and Bruce Ward, who had been scheduled to be executed Monday.
In 1990, Davis - riding a four-day cocaine high - shot and killed Jane Daniel, 62, after he broke into and burglarized her home in Rogers, Arkansas.
The state was rushing to win approval to execute Davis before his death warrant expired at midnight.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request by the state of Arkansas to execute its first prisoner, making it even more hard for the state to carry out its eight scheduled executions before the end of April.
McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. on Tuesday filed a complaint in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order or injunction "to prevent the use of our product for something other than a legitimate medical objective", it said in a statement. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal judges ruling blocking the executions over the use of midazolam, a sedative used in flawed executions in other states.
Like many USA states, Arkansas has struggled to find the drugs it needs to carry out executions.
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The executions would have started Monday night under Arkansas' aggressive plan to use a key drug before it expires at the end of April.
A federal appeals court dissolved a stay that had been issued by a federal judge, but other legal obstacles remain in state courts. The governor is monitoring the courts and plans to visit with the attorney general and Arkansas Department of Correction leaders to discuss any next steps.
Among the decisions the state is appealing against is one from a federal judge who on Saturday halted all of the executions so the inmates could pursue claims their deaths could be especially painful.
"While the world meditates about divine love, forgiveness, justice, and hope, Arkansas officials plan to commit a series of homicides", he wrote.
Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee are shown in this booking photo provided March 21, 2017.
The state has not executed anyone since 2005.
The director of the Arkansas Department of Correction, Wendy Kelley, testified last week that Arkansas was not charged for its current supply of potassium chloride. The high court asked a disciplinary panel to consider whether Griffen violated the code of conduct for judges.
There are also two executions scheduled for April 24 and one scheduled for April 27.
That US District Court judge had ruled that the prisoners will likely succeed in demonstrating the state's proposed method of lethal injection is unconstitutional.
The plan for six to eight quick-fire executions in less than two weeks has never before been attempted in the modern era of the U.S. death penalty.