U.S. lawyers contest mass executions in Arkansas

The fight in Arkansas, which has not held an execution in 12 years, came after USA executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016 and as several capital-punishment states have been sidelined due to problems with lethal injection drugs and legal questions over their protocols. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable as an execution drug, saying it is not a pain-killer and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution. State law requires a 30-day comment period on favorable recommendations, but those 30 days expire after Arkansas' midazolam supply.

Separate court action would be required to pursue the execution of the eighth inmate, Jason McGehee, whose stay issued by a federal judge has not been appealed but whose execution warrant remains active.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas inmates who had been set for execution in a series of double executions this month said Sunday that a federal appeals court should take up their claim that the compressed timetable would violate "evolving standards of decency".

Justices on Monday reassigned the cases from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

The state adopted its protocol to use midazlolam, one of the three drugs in the state's lethal cocktail, in 2015.

The Rev. Stephen Copley, chairman of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said he was surprised by Friday's ruling, and though he remained hopeful, he also approached the news with a measure of caution. Local media outlets had tweeted photos and video of Griffen appearing to mimic an inmate strapped to a gurney at the demonstration.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has reissued its order that halted the execution of one of the first inmates facing lethal injection under the state's multiple execution plan.

The state Supreme Court "still offered no reason to the stay but did indicate that three justices would have denied the request", spokesman Judd Deere wrote in an email.

State attorneys have appealed most of the orders blocking executions, including Ward's stay.

Ward was convicted in the 1989 killing of Rebecca Doss after she was found strangled in the bathroom of the Little Rock gas station where she worked. He had been scheduled to die Monday night under the state's plan to put eight inmates to death before the end of the month.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified they must conduct the executions with their current batch of midazolam, a sedative that is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts.

Ward's attorneys say he's a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the state Supreme Court Saturday to lift the stay it issued to Bruce Ward, who was scheduled to die on Monday. The companies did not disclose which of their drugs Arkansas will use during the executions.

The company that asked Griffen to act, McKesson Corp., sought to drop its lawsuit after U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued her stays on Saturday.

People gather at a rally opposing the state's upcoming executions, on the front steps of Arkansas' Capitol, Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

Later Saturday, Rutledge also asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the blanket stay on executions ordered by Judge Baker, arguing that the case should have been dismissed because the challenge over midazolam had already been addressed in previous court cases.

Arkansas says it can not find a new drug supply if the executions are delayed.

If carried out, Monday's back-to-back executions would begin at 6 p.m. CDT (7.00 p.m. ET) at the state's Cummins Unit in Grady, a small town about 75 miles (120 km ) southeast of Little Rock, the state capital.

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