LITTLE ROCK — A circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order Friday barring Arkansas from using one of the drugs it has been planning to use in a series of executions starting Monday.
A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Rutledge will ask the state Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible.
Also Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted an emergency stay of execution for one the seven men Arkansas planned to put to death over an 11-day span this month.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said in his order that medical supply company McKesson Medical-Surgical has shown it will suffer irreparable harm if the state uses vecuronium bromide obtained from the company to execute inmates. The paralytic is part of a three-drug cocktail the state intends to use for lethal injections.
The harm the company would suffer would include “forced participation in a procedure that is likely to cause reputational injury,” the judge said.
Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement Friday, “As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case. Attorney General Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible.”
Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining execution drugs. The state’s current lethal-injection law includes a ban on disclosure of information about the suppliers of execution drugs, a provision aimed at helping the state avoid clashes with companies that do not want their products associated with lethal injection.
Two drug makers also have filed a brief in federal court objecting to the use of their products in Arkansas’ executions.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas Supreme Court said Friday, in a one-page order without explanation, that it was granting a motion for a stay of the execution of Bruce Earl Ward, who had been set to die Monday.
Ward’s attorneys had asked that his execution be halted so they could present evidence that he is mentally incompetent.
Ward, 60, is sentenced to die for the 1990 strangulation of 18-year-old Little Rock convenience store clerk Rebecca Lynn Doss. He previously had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Pennsylvania in a woman’s strangulation death.
Federal Public Defender Scott Braden, who is defending Ward, said in a statement Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a prisoner must be mentally competent to be executed.
“Mr. Ward’s severe and lifelong schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: he has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it,” Braden said in the statement.
“In fact, he does not believe he will ever be executed and believes he will walk out of prison a free man to great acclaim and riches. His nearly three decades in solitary confinement have only worsened his severe mental illness,” he said.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said in a statement Friday, “Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the state Supreme Court has previously upheld his conviction. The court granted a stay of Ward’s scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so. Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed.”
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said Friday, “This is a process, and this is part of it. The governor will meet with the attorney general and general counsel next week and decide on the right course of action.”
Hutchinson originally scheduled eight executions for this month, but last week a federal judge stayed the execution of Jason McGehee, saying 30 days must be allowed for public comment on a recommendation by the state Parole Board that Hutchinson spare McGehee’s life.
The state is seeking to carry out the executions before its supply of one of its execution drugs expires at the end of the month.