Judge Alice Gray ruled in favor of the drug distributor, McKesson Medical-Surgical Incorporated's claim that the state misled the company when the Arkansas Department of Correction purchased the drug, vecuronium bromide. The temporary restraining order is the second one the company has filed related to Arkansas' use of pancuronium bromide for its death penalty protocol. This has created a shortage that has led US prisons to turn to risky experimentation, as was in the case in 2014, when Dennis McGuire, an OH inmate on death row, was injected with a never-before-used drug cocktail.
It capped a chaotic day of legal wrangling in state and federal courts Monday as Arkansas tried to clear obstacles to carrying out its first executions since 2005. Instead, the action came from a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.
The state high court decision was one of two setbacks Wednesday to Arkansas' bid to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus. Despite the secrecy measure, prison officials have said it will be very hard to find a supplier willing to sell Arkansas midazolam after its current stock expires. The state and its lawyers say the inmates are seeking any legal approach they can find in their efforts to avoid death. ABC News reports that McKesson thought they had sold the drug to the state for medical use only and "that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out".
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The inmates are fighting their executions on multiple legal fronts, but there are now no stays in place for five who are set to die this month as the state rushes to beat an expiration date for one of its lethal drugs.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is "surprised and disappointed" that the state Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution to Stacey Johnson, who was scheduled to be put to death Thursday. Another ruling Wednesday could scuttle the entire schedule.
Arkansas has faced a barrage of legal challenges, which have so far resulted in three of the executions being halted and criticism that it was acting recklessly.
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The high court's order sparing Davis offered no explanation, but none of the justices voted in favor of lifting the stay.
Two more inmates, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, are scheduled to die on April 24, while Kenneth Williams is slated for execution on April 27. The state can ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider its decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday opted not to vacate a separate stay involving inmate Davis. Once her order was in, the state filed a notice that it would appeal.
Lawyers for Arkansas inmates condemned to die Thursday in a planned double execution are claiming they are innocent and one of them says advanced DNA techniques could show he didn't kill a woman in 1993.
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The two inmates were transferred to the Cummins Unit in Grady, which houses the state's death chamber, ahead of the lethal injections scheduled for 7 p.m. CDT (0000 GMT) and about 8:15 p.m. CDT (0115 GMT on Friday), prisons spokesman Solomon Graves said. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law".