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Arkansas AG: Remove circuit judge from executions case, reverse order

by Gavin Lesnick | April 15, 2017 at 11:10 a.m.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen on Friday issued a temporary restraining order blocking Arkanas' scheduled executions.

The Arkansas Attorney General on Saturday asked the state's high court to reverse a circuit judge's temporary restraining order blocking executions planned for this month and to remove him from the case.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's filing with the Arkansas Supreme Court says Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen can't be impartial in death-penalty decisions like the one on which he ruled Friday because he is an outspoken critic of capital punishment. Click here to read the full filing 📄 .

Rutledge notes that Griffen attended two anti-death penalty rallies Friday in Little Rock, including one outside the Arkansas Governor's Mansion where he "lay strapped down on a cot to simulate the experience of a condemned prisoner on a gurney."

"Judge Griffen cannot be considered remotely impartial on issues related to the death penalty," Rutledge wrote. "Judge Griffen has demonstrated that he is unlikely to refrain from actual bias regarding matters related to the death penalty, and at a minimum, he cannot avoid the appearance of unfairness and his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."

Rally against death penalty at Arkansas Capitol

Click here for larger versions
Photos by Stephen B. Thornton and Emma Pettit

Griffen's temporary restraining order Friday afternoon barred the state from executing condemned inmates it had planned to put to death beginning Monday.

It came after the state Supreme Court earlier that day stayed the execution of one of seven men scheduled to die by lethal injection before the month's end. And it came a day before a federal judge in a separate decision issued an injunction blocking all the deaths. The state is also appealing that ruling.

Under Arkansas' protocol, midazolam is used to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide then stops the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart.

Medical supplier McKesson sold the state vecuronium bromide. In a statement Thursday night, McKesson said it complained to the state after learning that Arkansas planned to use the drug for lethal injections. The state said it would return the drug, McKesson said, and the company issued a refund, but the drug was never returned.

McKesson said it was considering "all possible means" to get the drug back and on Friday filed the complaint in Pulaski County that prompted Griffen's order. Click here to read the full restraining order 📄.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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