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Judge halts Arkansas plan to execute inmates by end of month

Court blocks Arkansas from using lethal injection drug

They said that one of their three lethal injection drugs - midazolam, a controversial sedative - will expire at the end of the month, and they are not sure if more can be obtained.

"When I set the eight execution dates in accordance with the law and my responsibilities, I was fully aware that the actions would trigger both the individual clemency hearings and separate court reviews on varying claims by the death row inmates".

Ward was scheduled to be executed on Monday evening in the second of two executions that night.

The Arkansas attorney general's office said it would appeal the judge's ruling, which threatened to derail a plan that once called for eight executions over the course of 10 days.

Arkansas' bid to execute the inmates in such a short space of time has drawn condemnation from hundreds of death penalty opponents who rallied at the Capitol on Friday waving signs including a large banner that read: "We remember the victims". The state prison system "never disclosed its intended goal to us for these products", a lawyer for McKesson, Ethan M. Posner, wrote in a letter obtained by The New York Times.

The 60-year-old was convicted of murdering a female convenience store worker and was sentenced to death 17 years ago.

This 2010 photo provided by the U.S District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas shows U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.

Griffen's participation in Friday's protest outside the governor's mansion sparked outrage among death penalty supporters, including Republican lawmakers who described it as judicial misconduct and potential grounds for Griffen's removal from the bench.

In addition to the plan's brutal haste, which Baker said would violate due process, several courts have taken issue with the use of the drugs themselves, including midazolam, the drug that expires for Arkansas at the end of the month. The companies that produced the drugs have said they don't want their products used in executions.

McKesson, a pharmaceutical distribution company, said it had requested Arkansas return its supply of vecuronium bromide after it learned it would be used in executions.

All of the condemned prisoners are challenging their executions.

The company has said it had been reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but it never was.

Lawyers for the death-row inmates had argued that the accelerated schedule did not give them enough time to prepare their appeals.

The questionable drug protocol was just one of many issues with the scheduled executions. A rally against the executions held in the state capital Little Rock on Friday was attended by hundreds of demonstrators, including U.S. actor Johnny Depp. He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that.

Two other drug companies, Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, filed a brief in US District Court of Eastern Arkansas arguing contracts prohibit their products from being used in executions, which run "counter to the manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives". The San Francisco-based firm said Baker's ruling removed the imminent danger of the drugs being used for executions.

The injunction represents the latest legal setback in Arkansas' attempt to execute the inmates - eight of whom were originally set to be put to death by the end of April.

Arkansas uses a three-drug combination of midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride in its lethal injection procedures.