An Arkansas judge issued an order on Friday that temporarily blocked the scheduled executions of eight convicted murderers after lawyers for the death row inmates challenged secrecy provisions in the state's lethal injection procedures.
Arkansas, one of the 31 U.S. states with the death penalty, has not carried out an execution since 2005 but had planned to resume capital punishment on Oct. 21 with two executions.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen took the action after lawyers for the inmates argued on Wednesday that provisions keeping secret the name of the vendors who provide the drugs used in lethal injections violated state law.
The judge issued a temporary restraining order for the executions to further examine the arguments, saying that "this action is Plaintiffs' only legal remedy by which they can challenge the Method of Execution Statute and execution protocol that will effectuate their deaths."
The Arkansas General Assembly this year enacted a statute allowing the identity of vendors of the pharmaceuticals to be withheld from the public. The condemned inmates contend the state must identify the suppliers of the drugs in accord with a settlement in an earlier case.
Arkansas is the only state in the U.S. South to not have carried out an execution in recent years. Legal and political battles over death chamber procedures and stays of executions for other inmates have been the main reasons why the state has not carried out an execution since 2005.
Many of the states that have the death penalty have been scrambling for lethal injection chemicals after drug makers in Europe began banning sales to U.S. prison systems about four years ago due to ethical concerns.
States have often turned to lightly regulated compounding pharmacies, which can mix chemicals, for their execution drugs.
Lawyers for death row inmates contend the chemical combinations provided by these suppliers could be tainted and could cause undue pain and suffering that is in violation of U.S. law.
A flawed execution last year in neighboring Oklahoma followed by an execution there last month being called off after the wrong drug was delivered to the death chamber have raised further questions about lethal injections.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Steve Barnes in Little Rock; Editing by Will Dunham and Sandra Maler)