Arkansas execution drug will expire before ruling takes effect
LITTLE ROCK, ARK. >> One of Arkansas' execution drugs will expire before a court decision upholding the state's execution law goes into effect.
A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Friday that she will not ask the state's Supreme Court to expedite finalizing its Thursday ruling that upheld Arkansas' execution secrecy law and drug protocol. The execution dates for eight death row inmates were put on hold pending their challenge to the law.
Generally rulings become final 18 days after opinions are issued. Without the attorney general's request, the ruling will go into effect July 11 — days after the state's supply of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic the state uses in executions, expires.
"After careful consideration and analysis the attorney general has decided not to seek an expedited mandate from the court. But once the court issues the mandate, the attorney general is fully prepared to ask the governor to set execution dates to see that justice is served," said attorney general spokesman Judd Deere.
After the mandate is issued, the stays on the eight executions would be lifted. But with one of the three drugs expiring June 30 and the supplier telling the state it would not provide more, it was unclear when the state would be able to resume executions.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson set the eight execution dates last September, almost a decade after the last execution in Arkansas in 2005. Court challenges and drug shortages had stalled executions during that time.
Asked about the attorney general's decision, Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said he could only speak to the process for setting the new execution dates.
"The next step is the mandate from the courts, then the request from the attorney general," he said. "Once we receive that, we'll move forward accordingly and appropriately."
Davis said he could not say whether dates would be set before the needed supply of execution drugs was obtained by the Department of Correction.
"We won't know what the next appropriate step is until that request gets to us," he said.
Solomon Graves, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, said he would not speculate about what will happen after the supply of the paralytic expires. He would not comment on whether the state had contacted any suppliers after the court upheld the law that would allow the supplier and maker to remain confidential.
The court's opinion noted an affidavit from a prison official who had said he tried to obtain alternate drugs from at least five companies, all of which declined. It was unclear whether Thursday's ruling would change those companies' decisions.
Deere said Thursday that the attorney general's office would not advise the Department of Correction to use the drugs after they expire.
The inmates' attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, said he did not have a comment on the attorney general's decision. He said he still plans to ask the court for a rehearing.
The inmates had argued that without disclosure of the source and other information they had no way to determine whether the midazolam, vecuronium bromide or potassium chloride used in executions would lead to cruel or unusual punishment.
But the high court said in its 4-3 decision that a lower court "erred in ruling that public access to the identity of the supplier of the three drugs (the Arkansas Department of Correction) has obtained would positively enhance the functioning of executions in Arkansas. As has been well documented, disclosing the information is actually detrimental to the process."
The inmates also argued that the secrecy law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information. But the court agreed with the state that the agreement is not a binding contract.
Attorneys for the state said at least five other courts have ruled that the three drugs used in Arkansas' protocol are acceptable, including the sedative midazolam. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma's use of midazolam last year.
Three justices issued partial or full dissents Thursday, including Associate Justice Robin Wynne, who wrote that he believed the inmates proved their claim that the law violated the state constitution's prohibition on cruel or unusual punishment.
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