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States to try new ways of executing prisoners. Their latest idea? Opioids.

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The synthetic painkiller fentanyl has been the driving force behind the nation’s opioid epidemic, killing tens of thousands of Americans last year in overdoses. Now two states want to use the drug’s powerful properties for a new purpose: to execute prisoners on death row.
As Nevada and Nebraska push for the country’s first fentanyl-assisted executions, doctors and death penalty opponents are fighting those plans. They have warned that such an untested use of fentanyl could lead to painful, botched executions, comparing the use of it and other new drugs proposed for lethal injection to human experimentation.
States are increasingly pressed for ways to carry out the death penalty because of problems obtaining the drugs they long have used, primarily because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply their drugs for executions.
The situation has led states such as Florida, Ohio and Oklahoma to turn to novel drug combinations for executions. Mississippi legalized nitrogen gas this s…

Attorney General Files Petition to Arkansas Supreme Court After Lethal Drug Blocked

Little Rock, Arkansas, April 14, 2017
Little Rock, Arkansas, April 14, 2017
State officials challenged one order Saturday and vowed to fight the other.

The rally was attended by actor Johnny Depp and by Damien Echols, who spent almost 18 years on Arkansas' death row. Arkansas has said this scheduled is needed because one of its lethal drugs will expire at the end of the month.

The inmates challenged the state's unprecedented plan, arguing the hasty timetable and the drug used to perform the execution amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

But more recently, capital punishment has been stalled in Arkansas because of drug shortages and legal challenges.

Legal battles had prevented any executions in the state in the last 12 years.

The attorney general plans to appeal Griffen's order as well. All of the inmates are men, and all were convicted of capital murder.

The state Supreme Court on Friday granted a stay of execution on 1 of the 7, and an 8th inmate whom the state planned to execution won an earlier stay.

"No state has ever conducted 8 executions over a 10-day period", he said.

The state appealed U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's order hours later, hoping to follow through with its planned executions, with the 1st scheduled for Monday. The latest ruling from Baker applies to the 8 originally scheduled to die, plus 1 more man whose execution had not yet been scheduled. Baker, dealt another blow Saturday.

Baker says the inmates could have legitimate claims that Arkansas' execution protocol could inflict "severe pain".

Posner sent the letter Thursday to 2 Arkansas officials.

On Saturday morning, the Attorney General's office filed an emergency petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that Griffen be removed from the case and his temporary restraining order be lifted.

"It is unfortunate that a US district judge has chosen to side with the convicted prisoners in one of their many last-minute attempts to delay justice", Jude Deere, an office spokesman, said.

Executions of multiple inmates are not new to Arkansas.

Other companies also weighed in. The suppliers of the muscle relaxant, vecuronium bromide, argued that it had been sold to the prison system on the premise that it would be used for legitimate medical purposes rather than executions.

The company has said it had been reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but it never was. The pair of lethal injections that Willett, the former Texas warden, presided over in 2000 was the last of 10 such executions over 6 years involving only 4 states: Texas, Arkansas, Illinois and SC. By Friday night, the company had persuaded Griffen to intervene.

McKesson contends that Arkansas penal authorities purchased the vecuronium bromide, which provokes muscular paralysis, without warning that it would be used to put inmates to death. The drug's maker, McKesson Medical Surgical, said it had been misled by the state.

Griffen wrote that these issues could not be remedied later, while the state could later obtain a replacement drug.

Absent details about drug sources, death penalty opponents may focus on questions about the drugs' reliability or how they are administered, based on flawed executions elsewhere.

The series of legal roadblocks constitute a major setback for Arkansas's Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, who had pushed for the accelerated executions as the expiration of the state's supply of midazolam drew near. "After hearing the evidence. the court is compelled to stay these executions", she said.

The Associated Press explains that "under Arkansas' protocol, midazolam is used to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide then stops the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart".

"When I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I knew I couldn't live with myself if I didn't come back and try to do something", Echols said Friday. Baker had not ruled by Friday evening.

Source: pppfocus.com, April 16, 2017


Gov Hutchinson releases statement on federal ruling that blocks scheduled executions


Little Rock, Arkansas, April 14, 2017
Little Rock, Arkansas, April 14, 2017
Governor Hutchinson has released a statement on the federal ruling by Judge Kristine Baker that blocks Arkansas' scheduled executions and other recent court rulings regarding the executions.

"When I set the 8 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. 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. I expect both the Supreme Court of Arkansas and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the decisions quickly, and I have confidence in the Attorney General and her team to expedite the reviews. I'll be meeting with the Attorney General and the Arkansas Department of Correction on Monday to determine next steps," he said.

The federal ruling cited a likely violation of the inmate's Eighth Amendment and right to due process.

Judd Deere, spokesperson for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, has confirmed that the state will appeal to the Eighth Circuit and possibly the Supreme Court. The court battle will likely extend into next week. However, if either high court rules in favor of the state, the executions could move forward as early as next week.

A federal case recently stayed the execution of Jason McGehee, who was set to die before Williams on April 27. Friday the Arkansas Supreme Court granted an emergency stay for Bruce Ward, who was set to be executed on April 17.

Another hurdle to the executions is a temporary restraining order that Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued Friday against the state of Arkansas, effectively halting the scheduled executions until further notice.

According to court documents, McKesson Medical-Surgical Incorporated filed the temporary restraining order for an "injuctive relief" and for the state of Arkansas to return its property, 10 vials of 20 mg Vecuronium bromide.

Source: KTHV-TV news, April 16, 2017


Little Rock Vice Mayor Webb thinks death penalty should be ruled out completely


Little Rock, Arkansas, April 14, 2017
Little Rock, Arkansas, April 14, 2017
Amid all the legal wrangling, there are high emotions on both sides of the death penalty debate.

Friday a rally bought hundreds of Arkansans out to the state capital voicing their opinion both for and against the death penalty. Saturday one city leader agreed with the decision by the federal court to halt the executions scheduled to begin on Monday.

In less than 48 hours eight executions are scheduled to begin. Little Rock Vice Mayor Kathy Webb is still sticking by her belief to not go through with the death penalty. This after Federal Judge Kristine Baker blocked Arkansas' plan to execute 8 inmates by the end of the month, but Webb is saying the death penalty should be ruled out altogether and not be used in Arkansas.

"I like it when the eyes of the country are on Arkansas for positive reasons, not something like this," Webb said. "I know that this is something that has weighed heavily on the governor and it is a tremendous responsibility."

"I would side with Judge Griffin and Judge Baker who question the constitutionality of the cruel and unusual punishment and the use of the particular drug for execution," Webb said.

Now Webb is left hoping a decision will be made that will bring both ease to the families of the victims and Arkansans.

"While my heart goes out to victim's families of the crimes," Webb said. "I don't think that taking another's life is a solution to their grief."

Friday's rally grew in size and stature when actor Johnny Depp came and spoke alongside Damien Echols. Echols walked off Arkansas' death row by taking what's called an "Alford plea." Depp has been a supporter and friend of Echols for several years.

Source: KTHV-TV news, April 16, 2017


Arkansas faces stark reality with execution plans


The topsy-turvy legal wrangling surrounding Arkansas' unprecedented effort to execute 8 men in 11 days is par for the course in a state where the death penalty has been in a holding pattern for more than a decade, despite strong support for capital punishment among voters and elected officials.

Uncertainty still surrounds the unprecedented execution timeline, which was set to begin Monday night and continue through April 27. If carried out, they would be the most executions carried out by a state in that timeframe since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The plan remains in limbo after a state judge blocked the use of a lethal injection drug a supplier says was improperly obtained and a federal judge said inmates could pursue a claim they're at risk of "severe pain."

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the executions to occur before the state's supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the three-drug lethal injection process, expires at the end of the month. The inmates have challenged the compressed timeline and the use of the drug, which has been used in flawed executions in other states. Pharmaceutical companies don't want their drugs used in the upcoming executions.

The execution dates come nearly four years after the state's previous attorney general vented that legal challenges and a shortage of drugs used in lethal injections made it unlikely the state would execute any inmates in the near future.

"I continue to support the death penalty, but it's time to be frank. Our death penalty system as it currently exists is completely broken," Dustin McDaniel told a group of sheriffs from around the state in 2013.

Then-Gov. Mike Beebe that year announced he would have signed legislation outlawing capital punishment if it ever reached his desk - a prospect that was unlikely even before Republicans took control of the state Legislature. The Democratic ex-legislator and former attorney general said his thinking on the subject had changed after he signed death warrants, though the executions never took place.

"It is an agonizing process whether you are for the death penalty or against the death penalty," Beebe said.

It's clear that Arkansas supports the death penalty, like many other Southern states. Polling by the University of Arkansas in 2015 showed that a broad majority supported executions, and the death penalty was not an issue when Hutchinson ran for office a year earlier.

In an order Saturday setting aside the executions, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker made it clear from the start that she wasn't attempting to decide whether executions were a proper way to punish Arkansas' worst criminals.

"The death penalty is constitutional," she said, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision that authorized the use of the surgical sedative midazolam. "Competency issues aside, plaintiffs are eligible to receive it. Each of these ... men was convicted by a jury of their peers and then sentenced to death."

Between the Christian observances of Good Friday and Easter, she wrote that "inherently barbaric punishments" weren't allowed: "burning at the stake, drawing and quartering, and crucifixion."

And she added that it is only up to Arkansans whether executions will continue.

"The court is mindful of the fact that the state of Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005, despite consistent support for capital punishment from Arkansawyers and their elected representatives. It is their right to decide whether the death penalty should be a form of punishment in Arkansas, not the court's," she said.

What those executions will look like was considered in political circles in 2014, when lawyer David Sterling suggested during his run for the Republican nomination for attorney general that Arkansas return to electrocutions.

"The electric chair has withstood constant constitutional scrutiny throughout the country for many, many decades. And so with it being available as a method of execution, I'm not sure why we're not employing it," Sterling said then.

Leslie Rutledge, who won the GOP nomination and is now defending the state's execution push as attorney general, disagreed.

"The electric chair is in a museum, and that's where it belongs," Rutledge said that year.

Source: Associated Press, April 15, 2017


Arkansas executions: State "working around the clock" to overturn block on lethal injection plan


The attorney general says they are "working around the clock" to get permission to put 8 criminals to death in 11 days.

Lawyers for the US state of Arkansas have vowed to overturn court orders preventing them from beginning an unprecedented series of executions this week.

A series of legal challenges has blocked the southern state's plans to execute 8 men by lethal injection in the space of 11 days.

A judge ruled that 1 of the drugs used might expose the prisoners to pain before their death - in violation of the US constitution's protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Arkansas' stock of the drug - midazolam - is due to expire at the end of the month, prompting the rush to carry out so many executions in such a short time.

The state's attorney general has appealed against the court's decision.

Leslie Rutledge said: "We do have a number of pieces of litigation that we are working (on).

"Attorneys are working around the clock and committed to upholding and defending the rule of law, seeing these executions carried out, seeing justice for the families of those victims."

The planned executions - which would be the most carried out in a such a short time since the US reinstated the death penalty in 1976 - have prompted widespread protests.

The actor Johnny Depp joined one rally, alongside a man [Damien Echols] who he campaigned to free after 18 years on death row.

When asked what he would say to Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, he replied: "I can't, I don't, you know - how do you sleep, man? I don't know. How do you sleep?"

One of the legal challenges has been brought by the manufacturers of the drugs.

McKesson Medical Surgical Inc said vercuronium bromide had been sold to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

Maya Foa, director of the anti-death penalty campaigners Reprieve, told Sky News: "The drugs slated for use in lethal injection cocktails across the US are simply medicines, designed to save and improve lives and (the) health of patients and (are) being misused in lethal fashion.

"So it is no surprise that the healthcare industry doesn't want to see medicines used in terrible executions."

Death sentences and executions have declined in recent years but voters in a number of states, including California, have opted to keep capital punishment.

6 states have abolished the death penalty in the last decade.

The story of the Arkansas 8 - Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Stacey E Johnson, Ledell Lee, Jack Harold Jones Jr, Marcel Williams, Jason F McGehee and Kenneth Williams - is now a key strand of the broader death penalty debate.

For James Phillips it is straightforward. His wife Mary was raped and murdered by Jones.

"I've been waiting for justice for nearly 22 years and that's all I'm after," he said.

Source: Sky News, April 17, 2017

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