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Saturday 24 February 2018

Arkansas Death Row inmates want appeal court to rule on 'decency' claim

A protest against Arkansas' planned executions outside the state Capitol building in Little Rock (AP Photo/Kelly P Kissel)
A protest against Arkansas' planned executions outside the state Capitol building in Little Rock (AP Photo/Kelly P Kissel)

Six Death Row prisoners who Arkansas plans to execute by the end of April want an appeals court to decide on their claim that the tight timetable would violate "evolving standards of decency".

US District Judge Kristine Baker granted the inmates stays of execution on Saturday, but she rejected their arguments that too little time between executions violated their constitutional rights.

Arkansas had originally wanted to execute eight inmates between Monday and April 27 because its supply of one of the three execution drugs, midazolam, expires on April 30 and the state says it does not have a supplier to replenish it.

Lawyers for the state appealed against the judge's ruling immediately with the hope of beginning the executions on Monday.

In its filing on Sunday, the inmates' legal team said the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals should review Judge Baker's decision to reject part of their arguments.

The lawyers said it was wrong for her to decide the inmates "did not establish a significant possibility of success on the merits on their claim that the compressed execution schedule is contrary to the evolving standards of decency".

The judge had said while the Supreme Court has made reference to evolving standards, particularly when "punishments are so disproportionate as to be cruel and unusual," the Arkansas death row inmates were unlikely to prevail.

The attorney general's office says it will respond to the filing after full arguments are put before the appeals court.

While she rejected some of the inmates' arguments, Judge Baker said there was a significant possibility that they could successfully challenge the state's execution protocol based on other arguments.

She said while the state demonstrated it does not plan to torture the inmates, they had a right to challenge the method of execution in an attempt to show it "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain".

A different judge has issued a stay for one of the eight condemned prisoners and the state Supreme Court has issued one for another inmate.

The six remaining executions are on hold after Judge Baker's order and because a state circuit judge in Little Rock ordered the state not to use a lethal injection drug until questions are settled on how the state obtained it.

That judge, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, has come under fire for taking part in anti-death penalty protests the same day after issuing his order stopping the use of the drug.

Arkansas has asked that the state Supreme Court reverse its decision halting the execution of Bruce Earl Ward, which was set for Monday.

If it fails there, it can appeal to the US Supreme Court. The state is also seeking to overturn Judge Griffen's order regarding the state's supply of vecuronium bromide.

The 8th Circuit could take up the appeal of Judge Baker's order at any time. Any decision there would likely also be appealed to the US Supreme Court.


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