'Temporary relief:' Arkansas blocks remaining executions

'Temporary relief:' Arkansas blocks remaining executions

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas suffered two more setbacks in its unprecedented bid to carry out eight executions this month with the state's highest court granting a reprieve to an inmate scheduled to die Thursday and a county court saying the state can't use one of its lethal injection drugs in any executions.

The state originally planned to carry out eight executions to occur over an 11-day period in April, which would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. supreme court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

A state circuit judge issued the temporary restraining order on Wednesday after the US pharmaceutical firm McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide under false pretences.

Vecuronium bromide is often used in executions in the USA as a paralyzing agent that stops the inmate from breathing. It was used in a "botched" Oklahoma execution in 2014, when a conscious inmate faced 40 minutes of paralysis and agonizing pain before suffering a heart attack. She wants to holding a hearing later on who really owns them - the state of Arkansas or a medical supply company that says it mistakenly provided them to the state prison system.

According to court documents, the ADC acquired the drug under false pretense, telling McKesson that it would strictly be used for medical purposes. McKesson argued that its use in lethal injections is prohibited under its "supplied agreement", adding that the corrections officer did not say it would be used in executions.

Inmates can spend years, or even decades, appealing their convictions and death sentences in state and federal courts.

Four of the eight inmates originally on Hutchinson's schedule have now received stays of execution, leaving four remaining who still could be put to death.

"I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review", Hutchinson said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling. But death penalty appeals nearly always are referred to the entire court.

An appeal of Johnson's stay of execution was undecided, the attorney general's spokesman said.

The second round of executions planned for this week are now on hold as legal challenges play out in courts in Arkansas and Washington D.C. The first two executions were canceled because of court decisions, and legal rulings have put the other six in doubt.

Representatives from the attorney general's office were at the state Supreme Court on Thursday hoping justices would overturn a decision by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray that halted the use of vecuronium bromide in any execution.

In the vecuronium bromide case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug past year in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages.

Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case. He said he didn't keep records of the texts, but a McKesson representative did.

Nine death row inmates asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay their executions.

Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in almost 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

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