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Federal judge issues order blocking Arkansas executions

Arkansas attorney general appeals ruling

By Gavin Lesnick , Emma Pettit

This article was originally published April 15, 2017 at 7:03 a.m. Updated April 15, 2017 at 4:45 p.m.

us-district-judge-kristine-baker-has-issued-an-order-halting-arkansas-plan-to-execute-several-condemned-inmates-this-month

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker has issued an order halting Arkansas' plan to execute several condemned inmates this month.

A federal judge issued an injunction early Saturday to halt the executions of several condemned Arkansas inmates, creating another barrier to the state's plan to put them to death over an 11-day period starting Monday.

The Arkansas Attorney General's office called the decision "unfortunate" and filed a notice of appeal with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling came a day after the Arkansas Supreme Court first issued an emergency stay blocking Bruce Ward's execution. That order didn't affect the other 6 condemned men, but Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled a short time later that a separate complaint filed by a medical supplier was cause to issue a temporary restraining order blocking all the executions.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's ruling, issued shortly after 6 a.m., applies to all of the scheduled executions. Click here to read the full order đź“„.

Baker wrote that "there is a significant possibility that plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their Eighth Amendment challenge to Arkansas’s lethal injection protocol."

"The state of Arkansas does not intend to torture plaintiffs to death," Baker wrote. "However, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment is not limited to inherently barbaric punishments. A condemned prisoner can successfully challenge the method of his or her execution by showing that the state’s method 'creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain' and 'the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.'"

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, criticized Baker's decision and said earlier Saturday that Rutledge planned to "immediately" appeal to seek a lift of the injunction. Online records show a notice of appeal was filed just before 10:45 a.m.

“It is unfortunate that a U.S. District Judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice," Deere said in an emailed statement. "This decision is significantly out of step with precedent from the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he planned to meet with Rutledge and prisons officials on Monday. In a statement, he said the legal challenges were expected.

"When I set the eight execution dates in accordance with the law and my responsibilities, I was fully aware that the actions would trigger both the individual clemency hearings and separate court reviews on varying claims by the death row inmates," Hutchinson said. "I understand how difficult this is on the victims' families, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the continued court review; however, the last minute court reviews are all part of the difficult process of death penalty cases."

Baker issued the ruling after presiding over a four-day trial on a case filed by the seven men. They were set to be executed two at a time between Monday and April 27, with lethal injections scheduled on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays.

Eight inmates were originally set to be killed, though a federal judge earlier granted one of them a reprieve.

The inmates’ attorneys sought to temporarily block the executions, arguing that the compressed schedule increases the likelihood of potentially harmful mistakes. The quick pace also prevented the men from preparing an adequate defense, which violates their federal due-process rights, the lawyers argued.

In the ruling, Baker noted the Arkansas residents and politicians have long shown support for capital punishment.

"It is their right to decide whether the death penalty should be a form of punishment in Arkansas, not the Court’s," she wrote, saying the victims' families "have waited decades to receive some closure for their pain."

"By this Order, that day is delayed yet again," Baker added. "These thoughts weigh heavily on the Court, but the Court has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution."

In addition to appealing Baker's ruling, the state Attorney General on Saturday also asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to reverse Griffen and to remove him from the case.

But later Saturday, McKesson, the medical supplier whose complaint prompted Griffen's order, cited Baker's injunction in asking for its complaint to be dismissed. It said Baker's order left "no need" for the restraining order Griffen issued.

Baker's ruling came a day after a public protest against the death penalty at the Arkansas Capitol. That rally drew hundreds of capital-punishment opponents, including actor Johnny Depp and former Arkansas death-row inmate Damien Echols. Echols, a member of the so-called West Memphis Three, served 18 years in prison before being released in 2011 in a rare legal maneuver in which he and his two co-defendants pleaded guilty to the killings of three Arkansas boys while maintaining their innocence. An effort to get a new trial for the men was working its way through the courts at the time.

Click here for photos from the rally at the Capitol 📸.

Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005 due to both legal challenges and difficulty in maintaining a drug supply. Hutchinson set the 11-day schedule as the expiration of one of the drugs in the state’s three-drug lethal cocktail neared. Midazolam, set to expire at the end of April, is an anesthetic given before the injection of fatal drugs.

In March, Arkansas obtained its needed supply of another drug, potassium chloride, which stops the heart. Vecuronium bromide, the third drug, is a paralytic.

On Thursday evening, two pharmaceutical companies filed a brief asking Baker to stop Arkansas from using their drugs in the planned executions. Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. said in the filing they believe the state’s Department of Correction bypassed controls on how the drugs are distributed, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Neither company’s spokesman said how or when the manufacturers learned that the state may have obtained their products.

Baker told the courtroom shortly before 5 p.m. that an outside party had requested permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief. She told attorneys she would read the brief before issuing her ruling, and neither side objected.

Read Sunday's Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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Kharma says... April 15, 2017 at 7:36 a.m.

Amazing. So, the "three drug protocol" is cruel and unusual (8th Amendment), and yet pets are euthanized every day without apparent pain or discomfort, and at low cost.

It's funny that there are a multitude of people who want to spare the lives of murderers, and yet support abortions, including partial birth ones (which is nothing if not infanticide.) I wonder ​if the aborted fetuses feel pain during the procedure? I wonder if a baby delivered to the point where only the head remains inside the mother when it's skull is punctured, and then it's brains are sucked out, feels pain? I wonder if the victims of these animals (who have waited years for their justice) felt pain during their tortures and murders?

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cam says... April 15, 2017 at 7:46 a.m.

Exactly Khama. Did the victims of these heinous crimes feel pain? Were they spared any cruel and unusual punishment? Wonder how these victims felt at they took their last breaths. Did they have ANY choice about their method of death? No. They were murdered in cold blood without any say in the matter whatsoever. So I continue to ask, WHY do criminals have MORE rights than the victims of their crimes? How, in any remote way, is that JUSTICE? Why do vicious murderers, with no conscience,have the right to cry and whine about cruel and unusual punishment? The actions they took while taking another human being's life are cruel and unusual. What makes the criminal more deserving of a painless death than the innocent victims' lives that were taken by their hands, far to soon?

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Surlow says... April 15, 2017 at 7:49 a.m.

It always amazes me that people pull out the abortion card every chance they get. "Save the innocent lives". I agree, lets save them. And let's save the school kids that have little food all summer. And let's save the mentally ill that roam our streets because they have no way to hold a job or treatment options. Let's save them all. Your taxes will go up but hey, we're saving innocent lives.

Oh wait.. You can't get a longer bass boat? You can't get a better cable package to watch football and NASCAR all weekend long? Well, all bets are off. Saving lives stops where YOUR wallet begins huh? Ok, noted..

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JakeTidmore says... April 15, 2017 at 8:17 a.m.

Within the first 3 posts above you see the two moral and political puzzles that divide the liberals and the conservatives.
^^^^^
Liberal Puzzles:
Conservatives are largely against abortion, saying that they want to save the lives of unborn fetuses. The United States has an extremely high infant-mortality rate, largely due to the lack of adequate prenatal care for low-income mothers. Yet conservatives are not in favor of government programs providing such prenatal care and have voted to eliminate existing programs that have succeeded in lowering the infant mortality rate. Liberals find this illogical. It appears to liberals that "pro-life" conservatives do want to prevent the death of those fetuses whose mothers do not want them (through stopping abortion), but do not want to prevent the deaths of fetuses whose mothers do want them (through providing adequate prenatal care programs). Conservatives see no contradiction. Why?

Liberals also find it illogical that right-to-life advocates are mostly in favor of capital punishment. This seems natural to conservatives. Why?
**
Conservative Puzzles:
Liberals support welfare and education proposals to aid children, yet they sanction the murder of children by supporting the practice of abortion. Isn't this contradictory?

How can liberals claim to favor the rights of children, when they champion the rights of criminals, such as convicted child molesters? How can liberals claim empathy for victims when they defend the rights of criminals?
^^^^^^
The above quotes are excerpted from Geo. Lakoff's book "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think", Chapter 2.

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NoUserName says... April 15, 2017 at 8:36 a.m.

I was under the impression that the US Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the challenge thereby making it okay to use. Therefore, Baker's injunction WOULD be out of step. Of course, as I recall, Baker appeared to have submitted falsified documents to the EEOC on behalf of a client so I would expect nothing less from her.

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AGG says... April 15, 2017 at 8:47 a.m.

I knew Bruce Ward's last victim. She was just a baby when I was growing up in Warren. Her mom and dad worked at area businesses and were liked by all.

This demon was out hunting for prey the night he brutally raped and murdered this naive child. Witnesses confirm he was propositioning other females. She was already afraid of working the night shift in this convenience store and brought her Bible with her the evening of her death.

The message here is simple. Innocent, law abiding people cannot depend upon the courts to protect them. You must take your welfare and the welfare of your loved ones into your own hands.

Some would say executing a criminal convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt of a heinous crime is evil. Some would say that. I say we are witnessing evil at work right now. What is taking place in Arkansas right now is the work of dark supernatural forces. A few, if not all, of these men on death row are guilty without question and deserving of the death penalty. The Bible tells us: " We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spirits and principalities of the air. " You are observing this struggle right now.

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Jfish says... April 15, 2017 at 8:47 a.m.

These liberal judges are likely only delaying the inevitable. It seems as though the Governor and AG are set resuming executions, as they should be, since we live in a democratic society and their fate has been decided in a court of law. I would assume that the electric chair can be brought back if it turns out the drugs are no longer available. The cruel and unusual punishment argument is pretty absurd, especially when you take into account that one of these animals murdered a mother and left the 11-year old for dead, pretty ridiculous what some people will defend.

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hogan44 says... April 15, 2017 at 8:58 a.m.

The USA has somehow allowed our "system" to get out of control pertaining the Federal Judges and their power. It matters not if it pertains to local laws and jury decisions, State Government, even Federal, including the President of the United States. Responsible Congress members and Senators need to step up and drastically change this, apparently legal, power given to the "so-call" judges. Our President has been blocked from making a move (within his constitutional authority) in order to protect our citizens. Now, this US District Judge, Baker, apparently has zero feelings for those who were murdered at the hands of these men, or the famalies of those who were murdered. The condemned were tried, found guilty and sentenced. They have "used" the US courts for years with appeals after more appeals, with slick lawyers assistance. Now they find a judge Baker with a "bleeding-heart" liberal mindset to block a guilty decision, as reached by a jury in a fair trial. Maybe she should just pardon them and turn them loose back into society. Changes are needed in the USA on how judges are selected and how they must justify their actions. One judge recently aided an illegal law-breaking immigrant, allowing him to escape ICE agents whom she knew was in the court house waiting for her to finish her work. Another "so-called" judge.

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JakeTidmore says... April 15, 2017 at 8:58 a.m.

Opponents of the death penalty have a much more basic argument at the core of their belief than whether the punishment is cruel or unusual.
How can the state morally justify killing someone when they say that it is morally wrong for that person to kill?
Do we take the Old Testament view of an eye for an eye? Or the New Testament revelation that one must forgive?
It is perhaps awkward to classify this as a liberal vs conservative argument. It is far deeper and more complex than that over-simplified polarization.

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JakeTidmore says... April 15, 2017 at 9:09 a.m.

Highly recommend the BBC analysis of the ethics involved in the death penalty debate, pro and con:
ht tp://ww w.bbc.co.uk/ethics/capitalpunishment/
**
People fussing about the judges and lawyers are simply arguing that they want judges, lawyers and laws to represent their own political views.
They fail to answer the question directly about why or why not have the death penalty. Fingerpointing is more about focusing blame than for revealing answers.

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