Death-penalty opponents are gathered on the front steps of Arkansas' Capitol to protest the state's plan to execute seven inmates before the end of the month.
Arkansas has scheduled the executions to occur before the state's supply of midazolam, one of three drugs used in its lethal injection protocol, expires at the end of the month.
Governor Asa Hutchinson set the execution dates in February after Ms Rutledge determined that the eight men had exhausted their legal challenges.
Arkansas' already compromised plan to put eight men to death over 11 days is in limbo after a judge blocked the use of a lethal injection drug that a supplier says officials misleadingly obtained and the state's highest court halted the executions of one of the first inmates who had been scheduled to die.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order barring authorities in the southern U.S. state from using vecuronium bromide, which the state had planned to use for its executions. Griffen scheduled a hearing Tuesday, the day after the first execution was scheduled. Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005.
"The people of the United States have spoken out against this horrific conveyer belt of death and we are relieved that the judge has temporarily stopped these executions. Attorney General Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible".
"As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case", Judd Deere, a spokesman for Ms Rutledge, said on Friday night. The executions have been scheduled to start Monday night. Ward's attorneys had asked for the stay after a Jefferson County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution.
"Mr. Ward's severe and lifelong schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: He has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it". He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that.
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which prohibits the use of its drugs in executions, said Thursay that McKesson, a distributor, had sold one of its products to the Arkansas Department of Corrections "in direct violation of our policy". The company has said it had been reassured the drug would be returned and even issued a refund, but it never was. The company accused the Department of Correction of misleadingly using its medical director's license, which was to be used only to order products for "legitimate medical uses", to buy the drug.
As of Thursday, the ADC continued to hold McKesson's product despite the company's repeated attempts to compel it to either return the product or assure the company in writing that the products would not be used for lethal injection purposes.
Four companies have publicly voiced concerns about how the Arkansas Department of Correction came to stockpile the drugs for its lethal injection cocktail - midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride - but only the McKesson Corporation made an explicit allegation of deception.
The companies did not disclose which of their drugs Arkansas will use during the executions.
Defense lawyers argued that midazolam - the drug used to render inmates unconscious before they are given two more drugs that paralyze and kill them - does not effectively keep those being executed from experiencing a painful death. The rally was headlined by actor Johnny Depp and Damien Echols, who spent almost 18 years on Arkansas' death row before 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.
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