1. ITV Report

Courts block bids by Arkansas to execute eight death row inmates by end of April

A hearing on the executions will take place on Tuesday. Credit: AP

Arkansas' plans to execute eight men by the end of April have fallen apart, after a judge banned the use of a lethal injection drug.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order stopping Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide - a muscle relaxant - after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment.

A hearing will take place on Tuesday, the day after the first execution had been scheduled.

Mr Griffen's order effectively halts the executions of Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Stacey Johnson, Ledell Lee, Don Davis, and Jack Jones.

However, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office said she planned to file an emergency request with the state Supreme Court to overturn the order, saying Mr Griffen should not handle the case.

Local media outlets had tweeted photos of Mr Griffen at a demonstration held by execution opponents outside the state Governor's mansion earlier on Friday.

"As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case," Ms Rutledge's spokesman Judd Deere said.

On Friday, a state Supreme Court also order blocked the execution of Bruce Ward, while a judge had halted another execution last week.

Top row, from left to right: Bruce Ward, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams. Botton row, left to right: Stacey Johnson, Ledell Lee, Don Davis, Jack Jones

The unprecedented number of executions had been scheduled to take place within the space of 11 days in an apparent attempt to use the state's supply of midazolam, one of three drugs in the lethal injection protocol, which are to expire at the end of April.

Speaking on Thursday, Asa Hutchinson, the Governor of Arkansas said the executions were necessary to “fulfil the requirement of the law” and to “bring closure to the victims' families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time.”

He continued: "It is necessary to schedule the executions prior to the expiration of that drug. It is uncertain as to whether another drug can be obtained, and the families of the victims do not need to live with continued uncertainty after decades of review.”

Midazolam put inmates to sleep before further injections are given. Credit: AP

McKesson, a pharmaceutical distribution company, said it had requested Arkansas return its supply of vecuronium bromide after it learned it would be used in executions.

The firm said the state had assured it would return the drug and the company had even issued a refund, but it never was.

US District Judge Kristine Baker is also considering a request from two other pharmaceutical companies that their products not be used for capital punishment.

Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals filed a court brief on Thursday asking the court to prohibit Arkansas from using their drugs.

Arkansas' bid to execute the inmates in such a short space of time has drawn condemnation from hundreds of death penalty opponents who rallied at the Capitol on Friday waving signs including a large banner that read: "We remember the victims ... But not with more killing."

The rally was attended by actor Johnny Depp and by Damien Echols, who spent nearly 18 years on Arkansas' death row.

He and two other men, known as the West Memphis Three, were freed in 2011 in a plea deal in which they maintained their innocence.

Mr Echols, who now lives in New York, said: "I didn't want to come back, but when I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I guess I knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't come back and try to do something."