Judge blocks Arkansas from using execution drug

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Pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight inmates, who contend the compressed execution schedule increased the likelihood of a botched execution and that one of the three drugs, midazolam, has been proven ineffective in rendering unconsciousness prior to administration of the two lethal agents.

Conservative groups spent heavily a year ago to back two candidates in Supreme Court races.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas suffered two more setbacks in its unprecedented bid to carry out eight executions this month with the state's highest court granting a reprieve to an inmate scheduled to die Thursday and a county court saying the state can't use one of its lethal injection drugs in any executions.

Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback to the state's plan to resume capital punishment for the first time in almost 12 years by refusing to lift an order sparing an inmate just minutes before his death warrant expired.

While both of Wednesday's rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when another of its drugs expires.

It's unclear whether the new execution obstacles would have any political fallout for the court.

Restraints are shown on a table inside the death chamber of the new lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California on September 21, 2010. A federal judge this month halted the last of the executions. The groups accused her of being close to trial attorneys and for the court's decision to strike down Arkansas' voter ID law.

But while Goodson voted to stay the three executions, so did the conservative-backed candidate who beat her in the chief justice race, Dan Kemp.

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The other two justices who favored stopping the executions were Robin Wynne, who was touted as tough on child predators when he was elected in 2014, and Josephine Linker Hart, who ran as a "no-nonsense judge" in 2012.

Arkansas suffered two more legal setbacks Wednesday in its unprecedented plan to carry out multiple executions this month when the state supreme court halted one and a judge later ruled that the state can not use one of its drugs in any executions.

State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said through her spokesman Judd Deere that she would appeal the restraining order to the state Supreme Court. The attorney for Davis and Ward requested stays of execution until the US Supreme Court rules on an upcoming case concerning defendant access to independent mental health experts.

The inmates' legal teams, as many death penalty opponents have argued, fear that midazolam does not render the inmates unconscious - its main goal in an execution.

This comes after Johnson claimed additional DNA testing in his case could prove he was innocent.

One of the three dissenting judges issued a blistering criticism of Monday's ruling sparing the first two condemned inmates. A double execution planned for earlier this week was halted by the state Supreme Court.

Another justice objecting to the rulings, Rhonda Wood, wrote in a dissent that Wednesday's stay "gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court".

Lee represents "a story of the judicial process gone totally wrong", his lawyer, Cassandra Stubbs of the ACLU, said in a statement.

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