Arkansas suffers two more blows in bid to execute eight inmates

The reporting on these drugs shows that all three drugs used in Arkansas' lethal injection cocktail are implicated in legal battles.

On Wednesday, a state circuit judge blocked the use of another of the drugs Arkansas acquired for lethal injections, after US pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide under false pretences. The temporary restraining order is the second one the company has filed related to Arkansas' use of pancuronium bromide for its death penalty protocol.

In addition, a group of Arkansas death-row inmates has filed another emergency stay request with the U.S. supreme court, this time challenging the state's plan for a flurry of executions before the end of April, when Arkansas' supply of an execution drug expires. Arkansas officials are trying to carry out the executions before their supply of midazolam, one of the execution drugs used, expires at the end of April.

"ADC meant to use this product in connection with executions, a fact that was never disclosed to McKesson", the company said in the filing at a state court in Little Rock, the state capital.

Arkansas' capital punishment push came as the number of USA executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016.

In the latter case, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray ruled in favor of McKesson Corp., who claimed they had sold the drug to Arkansas under false pretenses. The state's aggressive and potentially unconstitutional plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days is unprecedented, hugely consequential, and has drawn national scrutiny at a time when Americans' support for the death penalty is on the decline.

Late Wednesday night the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the execution of Stacey Johnson who was set to die by lethal injection Thursday, Reuters reports sending his case has been sent back to trial for reconsideration of DNA evidence.

The judge filed her order Thursday after the state complained to the Arkansas Supreme Court that she was taking too much time.

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It takes five justices, a majority of the court, to issue a stay or lift one that has been imposed in another court.

The state originally set eight executions over an 11-day period in April, which would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Once her order was in, the state filed a notice that it would appeal.

Arkansas' store of midazolam is set to expire at the end of April, one of the reasons for the rushed schedule of executions.

Separate from the inmates' legal challenges, a handful of drug companies are saying they don't want their products used in the executions.

"Some items have never been tested", said Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for Johnson.

The first two inmates scheduled for execution on Monday were spared - one of them by the U.S. Supreme Court minutes before his death warrant expired - and one of the two rulings on Wednesday could scuttle the entire schedule.

Lawyers for Lee are also petitioning for a reprieve from the state's top court, which has yet to issue a ruling. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law".

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