Arkansas’ multiple execution plan appears to unravel

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ already compromised plan to execute eight men by the end of the month appeared to unravel Friday, with a judge blocking the use of a lethal injection drug and the state’s highest court granting a stay to one of the first inmates who had been scheduled to die.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment. Griffen scheduled a hearing Tuesday, the day after the first execution was scheduled.

Griffen’s order effectively halts the executions, which had dropped to six after Friday’s state Supreme Court order blocking one execution and a federal judge halting another last week, unless it’s reversed or the state finds a new supply of the drug.

Arkansas, which has not executed an inmate since 2005 because of drug shortages and legal challenges, had initially planned to execute eight before the end of April, when its supply of midazolam expires. That plan, if carried out, would have marked the most inmates executed by a state in such a short period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office said she planned to file an emergency request with the state Supreme Court to vacate Griffen’s order, saying Griffen shouldn’t handle the case. Local media outlets had tweeted photos of Griffen at a demonstration held by execution opponents outside the Governor’s Mansion earlier Friday.

“As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case,” Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said.