Arkansas plans 8 executions to take place over 10 days in April

CBS/AP

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an effort to block executions scheduled next month for eight death row inmates, saying there’s no stay in place preventing the men from being put to death.

In a 5-2 order, justices granted the attorney general’s request to clarify that there’s no stay in place for the eight inmates. The court last week lifted the stay on its ruling upholding Arkansas’ lethal injection law, prompting the state to move forward with the executions.

Attorneys for the inmates asked the court to invalidate the governor’s proclamations scheduling the executions, arguing there was still a stay in place since they had filed an amended complaint in lower court. Justices didn’t elaborate on their decision in the one-page order.

“It is past time for the victims’ families to see justice for the horrible murders of their loved ones,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. “My office is prepared to respond to any and all challenges that might occur between now and the execution dates. I will do all I can to finally bring closure to the victims’ families and to honor the verdicts and sentences imposed by juries decades ago.”

The court lifted its stay days after the U.S. Supreme Court said it wouldn’t review the state court ruling over Arkansas’ lethal injection law. Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday scheduled four double executions over a 10-day period in April for the eight men.

The state, however, lacks one of the drugs needed to put the men to death. The state’s supply of potassium chloride - one of three drugs used in its lethal injection protocol - expired in January, and a prison spokesman said the state has not found a replacement. Hutchinson has said he’s confident the state will find a new supply.

Attorneys for the inmates have asked a Pulaski County circuit judge to find the state’s lethal injection law, which keeps the names of its drug suppliers secret, and the three-drug protocol unconstitutional.

“The order dissolves the stay but does not end the case,” attorneys John C. Williams and Jeff Rosenzweig said in a statement. “And the Arkansas Supreme Court has never rejected our evidence that the state’s chosen execution protocol causes atrocious suffering. We will continue to fight for our clients and to contest this appalling execution schedule.”

The execution schedule appears aimed at putting the inmates to death before another one of the state’s lethal injection drugs expires. The state’s supply of midazolam lists an April 2017 expiration date, which pharmacy experts say is commonly accepted to mean the end of the month. The state’s supply of vecuronium bromide expires on March 1, 2018.

Arkansas hasn’t executed an inmate since 2005 due to legal challenges and difficulties obtaining execution drugs.