Arkansas judge's decision centers on how 3 drugs work

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An Arkansas federal judge issued an order Saturday to halt planned inmate executions, launching yet another blockade to the state's plan to put at least seven inmates to death in an 11-day period.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker is also considering the inmates' arguments that such a compressed schedule could lead to undue pain and suffering. She said that while the state demonstrated it does not plan to torture the inmates, the inmates had a right to challenge the method of execution in an attempt to show it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain". "We are calling on state officials to accept the federal court's decision, cancel the frantic execution schedule, and propose a legal and humane method to carry out its executions".

The judge's restraining order barred the state from administering one of three drugs it planned to use in the executions, which are scheduled to begin on Monday and stretch over 11 days.

The federal injunction comes one day after an Arkansas judge blocked the use of the drug in the planned executions.

Arkansas and at least a dozen other states with the death penalty have been able to keep secret how and where they are getting the lethal drugs used in their death chambers - information that had always been publicly available.

Citing the judge's participation in anti-death penalty events before and after issuing his ruling, attorney general Rutledge wrote on Saturday: "This court should put a stop to the games being played by a judge who is obviously unable to preside over this case impartially".

Griffen declined to comment on the demonstration or his ruling, saying he'd address any questions about it at a hearing he scheduled for Tuesday.

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Attorney General Leslie Rutledge plans to file an emergency request for the Supreme Court to vacate that order, a spokesman said, allowing the injections to commence.

Arkansas employs potassium chloride in combination with vecuronium bromide and midazolam.

McKesson, a medical supply company based in San Francisco, filed a complaint in court saying it believed the prison system bought vecuronium bromide to be used for medical purposes.

A state judge ruled Friday that Arkansas can not inject inmates with the muscle relaxant now on hand until he addresses a complaint that prison officials obtained the drug improperly.

The inmates' lawyers called on the state to drop its rush to use the midazolam before it expires.

US Judge Kristine Baker of the Eastern District of Arkansas noted in her decision that the southern state, which originally planned to conduct eight executions between April 17 and 27, had not carried out any since 2005.

"Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the State Supreme Court has previously upheld his conviction", said Mr. Deere.

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Critics say that midazolam, a sedative meant to render a condemned person unconscious before other drugs are used to stop the heart, does not always work. Pfizer said it had twice asked Arkansas to return the drugs and had considered legal action.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday 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.

The company has said it had been reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but it never was.

Johnny Depp appeared in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Friday, to lend his support to protesters opposing executions in the state.

Local media outlets had tweeted photos of Griffen at a demonstration held by execution opponents outside the Governor's Mansion earlier on Friday.

We also got a statement from the Arkansas Department of Correction: despite Saturday's ruling and the others that are expected, they are proceeding with preparations and will be ready to carry out that first execution on Monday.

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