Arkansas Supreme Court Denies Execution Appeal, But Stays Its Mandate

Jul 21, 2016

Arkansas Supreme Court building

The Arkansas Supreme Court is denying a request by eight death row inmates to appeal a decision that upheld the state’s execution secrecy law. But the court is also delaying its order as the inmates request a hearing from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the inmates had asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling from June. That decision upheld the secrecy law, allowing the Arkansas Department of Correction to conceal the identity of the supplier and manufacturer of lethal injection drugs.

On Thursday, the court denied the request in a 4-3 decision. Justices Paul Danielson, Jo Hart and Robin Wynne voted to grant the request, according to court documents. The court did however vote 4-3 to honor a request delay its mandate to order the state to set execution dates. This gives the inmates’ lawyers time to request a hearing before the nation's high court. Documents show Justices Karen Baker, Courtney Goodson and Rhonda Wood elected to deny that request.

Chief Justice Howard Brill was the only member to vote to deny the inmates a state appeal, but allow them to seek a new hearing before the nation’s highest court.

Lawyers for the inmates argue they have reason to be heard in federal court because the case bears similarities to an Oklahoma case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed that state to use a sedative Midazolam in its lethal injection protocol. But after the ruling, Oklahoma used a different drug in Midazolam’s place, which the Arkansas inmates’ lawyers say proves that Oklahoma cannot carry out the execution protocol properly. The Arkansas Supreme Court's ruling upholding the secrecy law was also based partly on the Oklahoma case. 

Midazolam is one of three drugs purchased by Arkansas to carry out lethal injections. The drug expires in April 2017, state correction officials have said. The other drugs, potassium chloride and vecuronium bromide, expire in January 2017 and March 2018, respectively. The state said it received a shipment of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, earlier this month. The state’s previous batch of the drug expired at the end of June.

There are 34 male inmates currently on death row in Arkansas. The state has not executed anyone since 2005, largely because of court challenges.