An Arkansas judge has placed a temporary hold on the upcoming executions of eight death row inmates as they challenge the state's lethal injection protocols.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen barred Arkansas correctional officers Friday from carrying out the executions as scheduled pending a hearing into whether the state can withhold the source of the drugs used to carry out the death penalty.
Attorneys for the death row inmates argue that the state's effort to conceal information about the drugs is unconstitutional. Due to manufacturer boycotts, states in recent years have been in short supply of the drugs needed to carry out capital punishment and have since relied on compounding pharmacies to concoct lethal drug combinations. States like Arkansas have passed secrecy laws to shield information about the source of the drugs, ostensibly to protect the identities of the pharmacies that make them. But critics argue that the drugs are unregulated and the process is unchecked, increasing the chances that a lethal injection could go awry.
The first two executions were originally scheduled for Oct. 21 and would have marked the first time Arkansas has used the death penalty in a decade. But given the time sensitive nature of the case and finality of the executions, Griffen agreed to give the prisoners' arguments a chance in court.
"Proceeding with Plaintiffs' executions as scheduled, without allowing parties adequate time to conduct discovery, respond to all outstanding claims and motions, and proceed to a trial on the merits on Plaintiffs' challenges to the Method of Execution Statute and the ADC's execution protocol, will rob Plaintiffs of an opportunity to litigate their rights under the Arkansas Constitution," Griffen wrote.
Just a day earlier in Oklahoma, an autopsy report revealed that correctional officers used the wrong drug in an execution in January. It was the same mix-up of drugs that led state leaders to call off all executions until they can ensure that the proper protocols were followed.