An Arkansas judge attended two death-penalty protests on the same day that he issued an order blocking the state’s multiple executions, at one point allowing himself to be strapped to a cot in a simulation of an inmate slated to die by lethal injection.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen “cannot be considered remotely impartial on issues related to the death penalty,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in an emergency petition filed Saturday challenging his order.
She said Mr. Griffen attended a 2 p.m. Friday rally at the state capitol in Little Rock before issuing the temporary restraining order at about 4:25 p.m., then resurfaced at an evening protest outside the governor’s mansion.
“Within an hour of granting the TRO [temporary restraining order], Judge Griffen was photographed at a second anti-death penalty rally — this one at the Governor’s Mansion, where Judge Griffen lay strapped down to a cot to simulate the experience of a condemned prisoner on a gurney,” said the petition. “Judge Griffen was protesting the very executions he had just enjoined.”
The judge also spoke out against the executions in a blog post earlier this month, saying that “Arkansas officials plan to commit a series of homicides,”according to the petition.
The order issued by Judge Griffen placed a hold on Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s unprecedented execution timetable, under which eight men were slated to be put to death in 11 days before the April 30 expiration of a key drug used in the state’s lethal-injection protocol.
Two of the condemned men have since obtained temporary reprieves, leaving six executions scheduled between April 17-27.
Ms. Rutledge is fighting two court orders to delay the executions: the temporary restraining order handed down Friday by Judge Griffen, and a preliminary injunction issued Saturday by U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker.
After a four-day hearing, the federal judge ruled in favor of the inmates, who had filed a legal challenge against the state’s rapid timetable as well as the drug protocol.
“The schedule imposed on these officials, as well as their lack of recent execution experience, causes concern,” Ms. Baker said in her order.
Judge Griffen issued his order stopping the execution in response to a lawsuit filed by a pharmaceutical manufacturer, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc., which had provided the Arkansas Department of Correction with one of the drugs.
The company argued that it was “misled” by state officials about how they planned use the vecuronium bromide, and that they failed to return the supply after saying they would do so.
The Republican attorney general criticized the complaint as “frivolous” and said McKesson was suffering from a case of “seller’s remorse.”
“None of the claims asserted by McKesson, nor any statute or common-law theory, support McKesson’s apparent belief that a person who purchases a product must use that product in a certain way as dictated by the seller after the transaction or return the product on demand by the seller,” said Ms. Rutledge.
The vecuronium bromide supplied by McKesson constitutes the state’s only supply, and state officials have been “unable to locate another source” of the drug, which is required under the execution protocol.
“[I]f the ADC cannot use the vecuronium bromide for the scheduled executions, then the executions cannot go forward,” said Ms. Rutledge in her petition. “Judge Griffen’s ex parte TRO is an undisguised stay of the upcoming executions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.