LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge on Friday delayed a trial over Arkansas’ lethal injection method after an attorney for the state said it is “highly unlikely” the state will be obtain new execution drugs or set execution dates before next spring.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted the state’s request to delay until April 2019 the trial challenging the state’s use of midazolam, a sedative used in executions that a group of death row inmates claim couldn’t render them unconscious and might expose them to excruciating pain. The trial was originally set for November.
In a brief hearing before Baker, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt noted that prison officials have previously said they won’t seek new execution drugs until the Legislature adds manufacturers to a law that keeps Arkansas’ source of execution drugs secret. The Legislature convenes for its regular session in January.
“As a practical matter, it is highly unlikely that the state will search for, acquire drugs and set executions prior to spring of next year,” Merritt said.
Attorneys for the inmates initially asked Baker to order Arkansas to not schedule executions using midazolam until there was a ruling in the case. But the federal public defenders agreed to the delay after Merritt’s comments at the hearing.
Arkansas prison officials said in July that they hadn’t been actively seeking new execution drugs since their supply of vecuronium bromide, which stops the lungs, expired in March. Its supply of potassium chloride, which stops the heart, expires at the end of this month and its midazolam supply expires at the end of January.