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Arkansas death row inmates challenge execution secrecy law

by The Associated Press | September 29, 2015 at 1:44 p.m. | Updated September 29, 2015 at 4:18 p.m.
Executions have been set for (top row, from left) Kenneth Williams, Jack Jones Jr., Marcel Williams, Bruce Earl Ward, and (bottom row, from left) Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee and Ledell Lee.

LITTLE ROCK — Eight death row inmates are asking an Arkansas judge to stop their executions, arguing that the state's refusal to reveal where it gets execution drugs is unconstitutional.

Similar arguments have been unsuccessfully used to challenge other state's secrecy laws, but the filing argues that Arkansas' new law violates a previous settlement with the state that ensured inmates would be given the information. The inmates' attorneys say the settlement constitutes a contract, and the Arkansas Constitution prohibits laws from being passed to undermine a contract.

The 58-page amended brief, filed Monday night in Pulaski County Circuit Court, also challenges the state's three-drug protocol, which includes the sedative midazolam. The sedative gained notoriety after being used during executions that took longer than expected last year in Missouri, Ohio and Oklahoma, though the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the drug's use in executions in June.

Still, attorney Jeff Rosenzweig argues that the drug cannot sufficiently mask "serious pain and suffering."

"Midazolam cannot, at any dosage, render a person unconscious and insensate to pain, and the other drugs in the listed protocol indisputably cause extreme pain and suffering," he wrote in the filing.

Nine inmates are included in the suit, thought only eight have exhausted all appeals and are scheduled for executions.

Arkansas is scheduled to resume executions Oct. 21, after a 10-year delay.

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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