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Arkansas court maintains stay for condemned man

18 April 2017

Arkansas asked a USA appeals court on Monday to allow a record eight executions before its lethal injection drugs expire, saying a lower court abused its discretion when it blocked the state from carrying out its plan to put the inmates to death this month.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected Attorney General Leslie Rultedge's motion to vacate the stay of Bruce Ward.

The fight in Arkansas, which has not held an execution in 12 years, came after US executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016 and as several capital-punishment states have been sidelined due to problems with lethal injection drugs and legal questions over their protocols.

The state judge's decision, reached Friday, was based on how Arkansas acquired another drug - vecuronium bromide, which is used in anesthesia as well as executions.

Justices on Monday reassigned the cases from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

In a response filed with the court late on Saturday, State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said that all of the issues raised by the condemned inmates had been previously and litigated.

Lawmakers have suggested the move may be grounds for the Arkansas House to begin impeachment proceedings, saying the demonstration and a blog post Griffen wrote on the death penalty last week may amount to "gross misconduct" under the state constitution.

Arkansas, which has not held an execution in 12 years, had planned to execute eight inmates over 11 days, the most of any state in that short a time since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

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The Arkansas Supreme Court said judges should act to maintain public confidence in their independence and impartiality, but did not mention Griffen's participation in the protests.

If carried out, Monday's back-to-back executions would begin at 6 p.m. CDT (7.00 p.m. ET) at the state's Cummins Unit in Grady, a small town about 75 miles (120 km ) southeast of Little Rock, the state capital. Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution. The court directed that Griffen be referred to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he violated ethical requirements.

Ward was convicted in the 1989 killing of Rebecca Doss after she was found strangled in the bathroom of the Little Rock gas station where she worked. But the ruling did not change the situation because Baker's order had already halted all the executions.

The executions would have started Monday night under Arkansas' aggressive plan to use a key drug before it expires at the end of April. People gather at a rally opposing the state's upcoming executions, on the front steps of Arkansas' Capitol, Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark. But U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued stays Saturday so the inmates could pursue a claim that they could suffer "severe pain".

Arkansas says it can not find a new drug supply if the executions are delayed. Arkansas hasn't carried out a double execution since 1999.

Any significant delay in court arguments could make them largely meaningless: Arkansas' midazolam supply expires April 30 and the state says it has no source for additional doses.

In its filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis, the state attorney general's office said the inmates' request to halt the executions "is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate the judicial process".