Ark. judge rejects bid to halt multiple executions

The inmates asked SCOTUS to reconsider its decision to not review a state court ruling upholding the lethal injection law

By Andrew DeMillo
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the state's lethal injection law, the latest setback for efforts to block the state's unprecedented plan to conduct four double executions over a 10-day period next month.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen granted the state's motion to dismiss the amended complaint filed by eight inmates facing lethal injection next month. Griffen said he has no jurisdiction over the case after the state Supreme Court reversed his previous decision striking down the law and the state's three-drug protocol.

"That dismissal effectively ended this court's jurisdiction over all claims and contentions in the lawsuit that led to the dismissal," Griffen wrote in his decision.

An attorney for the inmates said he planned to appeal Griffen's ruling quickly to the state Supreme Court.

"We will again ask the court to reconsider its findings and point out the flaws in its earlier findings," Jeff Rosenzweig said.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month scheduled the executions to begin before the state's supply of midazolam, a controversial sedative used in its three-drug protocol, expires. Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005.

The inmates filed a federal lawsuit Monday aimed at halting the executions. They've also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to not review a state court ruling upholding the lethal injection law, which keeps the source of Arkansas' execution drugs secret.

The ruling comes a day after the state Parole Board recommended Hutchinson reject a clemency request by Stacey Eugene Johnson and Ledell Lee, two of the convicted murderers scheduled for execution. The panel held another hearing Monday for convicted murderer Marcel Williams, and hearings are set for Friday for two other death row inmates.

Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate in more than a decade because of court challenges and difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs. The state hasn't carried out a double execution since 1999, and while Texas has executed eight people in a month — twice in 1997 — no state in the modern era has executed that many prisoners in 10 days.

The executions are scheduled on April 17, April 20, April 24 and April 27.

In his ruling, Griffen wrote that he was troubled by the state Supreme Court decision and by the inmates' argument that the lethal injection protocol could subject them to painful executions.

"It is more than troubling that Arkansas judges must now deny persons sentenced to death by lethal injection a fair and impartial evidentiary hearing concerning their allegations that the state of Arkansas intends to subject them to an execution process which they allege will involve demonstrable risk of severe pain," he wrote.

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