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A federal judge in Arkansas has blocked the execution of one of eight death row inmates scheduled to die later this month, saying the schedule set by the state doesn't allow enough time for the inmate's clemency petition to proceed.
On Wednesday, a parole board recommended that the inmate in question, Jason McGehee, be granted clemency. The final decision on clemency is up to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, but U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. ruled that the state needed to allow a 30-day comment period.
Arkansas was hurrying to carry out the executions before one of its lethal-injection drugs expires at the end of the month.
The judge's ruling will push McGehee's execution past that expiration date — but does not necessarily affect the rest of the schedule.
The Associated Press reports that one other inmate could have his execution delayed, as well.
"The judge said he might also rule for inmate Jack Jones if the Parole Board approves his clemency petition Friday," the news service writes.
The Parole Board already heard clemency bids from four other inmates scheduled to die, and did not recommend that they be granted mercy. Marshall ruled those executions could continue as scheduled.
The final two inmates did not request clemency. Lawyers for one of them — Bruce Earl Ward — asked Marshall to intervene, saying Ward's "severe mental illness, including persistent delusions that his lawyers are part of a sustained conspiracy against him," had made it impossible to apply for clemency by the deadline. Marshall opted to allow that execution to proceed, as well.
As NPR reported last week, there has been outcry over the fast pace of the executions, scheduled over an 11 day-period between April 17 and 27:
"It's been more than a decade since Arkansas killed any death row inmates. And the state has never before used midazolam, one of the three drugs used in the state's lethal injection protocol.
"The sedative is supposed to render inmates unconscious so they don't feel pain from the subsequent drugs that cause death. But in several midazolam executions, death row inmates were seen writhing or gasping as they died. (In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled the use of midazolam does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.)
"The drug is the source of the sudden urgency: Arkansas' supply expires at the end of April. In late February, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the executions specifically to end before the drugs expire. ...
"The haste has been criticized by some as unseemly. (It has also led to an apparent shortage of witnesses: At one point, the director of Arkansas' Department of Correction reportedly asked a Rotary Club for volunteers to watch the executions.)
"And there has been outcry over the risk of botched executions, violations of due process — or psychological damage to executioners."