Arkansas Executions 2017

Wendell Griffen
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A disciplinary panel says Arkansas Supreme Court justices don't have to testify in an ethics hearing over a judge's participation in an anti-death penalty demonstration the same day he blocked the state from using a lethal injection drug.

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission issued an order Friday granting justices' request to block their testimony in next week's hearing against Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

Arkansas Death Chamber Lethal Injection
Department of Correction

It’s now up to U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to decide whether Arkansas’s lethal injection protocol inflicts unconstitutional pain and suffering on condemned inmates. For eight days she has heard arguments and testimony in the lawsuit by a group of death row inmates who allege the sedative midazolam, which is the first of three drugs used, is not effective at keeping inmates unconscious when subsequent drugs shut down the body.

Wendy Kelley
Arkansas Public Media

A federal trial regarding Arkansas’s use of the sedative midazolam in lethal injections is wrapping up. On Wednesday, just over a week since the trial began, attorneys for the state called their final witness. Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley is named along with Gov. Asa Hutchinson as a defendant in the lawsuit by a group of death row inmates who claim the drug isn’t enough to keep inmates unconscious during the process.

Varner Arkansas Department of Correction Cummins Prison
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Attorneys defending the state in a lawsuit by Arkansas death row inmates challenging the use of a drug in lethal injections called a series of officials to the stand Tuesday who witnessed executions carried out two years ago. They included the warden who organized the executions, a former prosecutor and two state senators, with all testifying that the inmates did not seem to experience any pain.

Little Rock federal courthouse
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Attorneys for the state began calling witnesses Monday in a lawsuit brought by 18 Arkansas death row inmates who are challenging the use of the drug midazolam in lethal injections. Testimony by a pharmacologist and an anesthesiologist directly contradicted witnesses in similar positions and testified last week for the plaintiffs.

Federal courthouse
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An anesthesiologist testified Friday in the lawsuit brought by a group of Arkansas death row inmates that two of the prisoners who were put to death in 2017 likely suffered "excruciating" pain because of the first drug used in the state’s lethal injection process. Dr. Gail Van Norman from Seattle said that’s because midazolam has no significant clinical anesthetic effects.

Arkansas Death Chamber Lethal Injection
Department of Correction

Testimony in a federal lawsuit over Arkansas’s use of the sedative midazolam in lethal injections shifted Wednesday from witnesses of recent executions to expert testimony. Attorneys for a group of death row inmates are trying to establish that the execution process inflicts unconstitutional pain and suffering.

Craig W. Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, said that midazolam, which is the first of three drugs used, would not effectively keep inmates from feeling the following drugs, which stop the heart and paralyze the muscles.

Little Rock federal courthouse
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A federal trial is underway with a group of Arkansas death row inmates challenging the state’s use of a sedative which is the first of three drugs used in the current lethal injection protocol. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that midazolam is not effective in fully knocking prisoners unconscious before the lethal drugs are administered, causing an unnecessary amount of pain. An attorney for the state said the inmates can’t prove its use is unconstitutional.

Arkansas House

A bill that exempts documents disclosing the source of drugs used in lethal injections from open records laws and criminalizes disclosure of such documents passed the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. 

Senate Bill 464's House co-sponsor, Rep. John Maddox, R-Mena, said the bill was necessary to shield drug companies from negative publicity. 

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part in an anti-death penalty demonstration in front of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion in April 2017.
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision dismissing a lawsuit filed by a judge in Arkansas who was barred from overseeing execution-related cases after he participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration.

The justices said Tuesday that they wouldn't get involved in the lawsuit filed by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part in an anti-death penalty demonstration in front of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion in April 2017.
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Attorneys for an Arkansas judge say they're asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the judge's complaints against members of the state Supreme Court.

Attorney Mike Laux says the petition was filed Friday on behalf of Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen. It comes after previous complaints were dismissed by a district judge, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and a judicial oversight commission.

Laux said he's confident the high court will take the case because he believes the appeals court "got it wrong."

Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Supreme Court has struck down a law that gives the state's prison director authority to determine whether an inmate is mentally competent to be put to death, siding with two convicted murderers who were spared from execution last year.

Justices ruled Thursday that the competency law violated due process rights guaranteed in the Arkansas and U.S. Constitutions. Convicted murderers Bruce Ward and Jack Greene were granted stays last year so the court could hear their case. Ward was one of eight inmates whom Arkansas planned to execute in April 2017.

Wendell Griffen
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Arkansas' governor has named seven special justices to hear an effort by members of the state Supreme Court to halt ethics charges they face for their decision to prevent a judge who participated in a death penalty demonstration from handling any execution-related cases.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed seven people Thursday to fill in for the justices, who have filed a lawsuit challenging a disciplinary panel's decision to charge them with ethics violations.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part in an anti-death penalty demonstration in front of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion in April 2017.
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Five Arkansas Supreme Court justices are challenging efforts to sanction them over the court's decision to disqualify a judge who participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration from hearing any execution-related cases.

Wendell Griffen
Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A disciplinary panel has filed ethics charges against six Arkansas Supreme Court justices over their decision to prohibit Pulaski County Circuit Judge Griffen from hearing execution cases after he took part in a death penalty demonstration last year.

The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission said the high court didn’t gave Griffen adequate notice or an opportunity to be heard over his removal from the cases. Griffen was photographed lying on a cot outside the governor's mansion last year the same day he blocked Arkansas from using an execution drug.

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