Arkansas judge halts 8 executions as inmates challenge law

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Arkansas to Resume Executions in October

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- An Arkansas judge on Friday halted the upcoming executions of eight death row inmates, dealing a blow to the state's efforts to begin putting prisoners to death for the first time in a decade.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issued a stay for all eight of the state's scheduled executions, the first two of which were set for Oct. 21. In a separate filing, he denied most of the state's request to dismiss the case and said within a few days he would schedule a hearing in the inmates' ongoing case.

The inmates are challenging a new Arkansas law that allows the state to withhold any information that could publicly identify the manufacturers or sellers of its execution drugs.

Notable death penalty cases:

Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
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Arkansas judge halts 8 executions as inmates challenge law

Willie Francis, the first known incident of failed execution by lethal injection, was executed on May 9, 1947. He was sentenced to death for the murder of his former boss, Andrew Thomas. 

(AP Photo/File)

John Wayne Gacy, a rapist and serial killer responsible for the sexual assaults and murders of at least 33 men, was executed in Illinois on May 10, 1994. 

(AP Photo/File)

Ted Bundy, a kidnapper, rapist, and serial killer responsible for the assaults and murders of dozens of young women, was executed in in Florida on January 24, 1989. His actual victim count remains unknown.

(AP Photo/File)

Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer responsible for the deaths of seven men, was executed in Florida on October 9, 2002. 

(AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Charles Starkweather, a spree killer responsible for eleven murders, was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. 

(AP Photo/Don Ultang)

Timothy McVeigh, responsble for the Oklahoma City bombing, was executed in Indiana on June 11, 2001.

(AP Photo/File)

Thomas Provenzano, a convicted murderer responsible for shooting three people, was executed in Florida on June 21, 2000.

(AP Photo/Peter Cosgrove)

Gary Gilmore, responsible for the shooting deaths of two men, was executed in Utah on January 17, 1977.

(AP Photo)

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, founder and leader of the Crips gang responsible for several murders and other crimes, was executed in California on December 13, 2005.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Teresa Lewis, convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, was executed in Virginia on September 23, 2010.

(AP Photo/Va Dept of Corrections)

William Bonin, a serial killer responsible for a minimum of 21 rapes and murders, was executed in California on February 23, 1996.

(AP Photo/File)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, responsible for Boston Marathon bombing, was sentenced to death on May 15, 2015.

(AP Photo/Federal Bureau of Investigation, File)

Nidal Malik Hasan, responsible for Ford Hood shooting, was sentenced to death on August 28, 2013.

(AP Photo/Bell County Sheriff's Department, File)

Joseph E. Duncan III, a convicted murderer and sex offender, was sentenced to death on August 27, 2008.

(AP Photo/Kootenai County First Appearance Video Court)

Death row prisoner Coy Wayne Wesbrook is photographed Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, Texas. Wesbrook, 58, is set for lethal injection March 9, 2016, for the November 1997 fatal shootings of his ex-wife and another man at her apartment in Channelview, just east of Houston. They were among five people killed during the shooting rampage. (AP Photo/Michael Graczyk)

Joshua Lee, a lawyer for the inmates, argued that the new secrecy law put them at risk of enduring unconstitutional pain and suffering during their executions because the drugs' safety and effectiveness couldn't be vetted. He also said the state agreed in a prior settlement to reveal the drug information to the inmates before their executions.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt argued that the secrecy law is constitutional and that the state wasn't bound by the settlement terms because of the law's subsequent passage.

But Griffen ruled that proceeding with the executions, as scheduled, would unfairly deprive the inmates of their rights to pursue their legal claims.

Jeff Rosenzweig, another attorney for the inmates, declined to comment about the ruling.

Cathy Frye, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, said the department can't comment on ongoing litigation and referred all questions to the Arkansas Attorney General's Office. The office's spokesman, Judd Deere, didn't immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Merritt had argued that the inmates' case was largely based on speculation of what might happen, instead of fact. But Griffen ruled that the inmates had presented enough facts to warrant their case moving forward.

Griffen did grant the state's request to dismiss an argument that the secrecy law violated the separation of powers provisions by giving the Department of Correction power that was reserved for the Legislature. He cited a March ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court denying a similar challenge to the state's previous execution law by many of the same inmates listed in the lawsuit.

On Thursday, an attorney for the inmates submitted a court filing citing troubles in neighboring Oklahoma as reason to stop the executions. Like Arkansas, Oklahoma has a secrecy law protecting the source of its execution drugs. A newly released autopsy report showed that Oklahoma used the wrong drug when it executed inmate Charles Warner in January.

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