The first of the executions is scheduled to begin Monday evening at a prison 76 miles southeast of the state capitol in Little Rock, and under Hutchinson's original schedule, it was to be followed by another later that night, with three more back-to-back executions were set for nights this week and next.
Another stay is in place for Ward, whose attorneys say he is too mentally ill to be executed.
The judge determined that their concerns were sufficient to halt the executions for the time being, to allow the issue to be considered by the courts.
With the clock ticking, Arkansas officials are fighting to carry out an unprecedented seven executions in 10 days and battling a flurry of court rulings that have thrown up roadblocks just in the last few days.
Arkansas had scheduled the executions to occur before the state's supply of midazolam expires at the end of April.
While most executions are carried out with little public notice, the scheduled lethal injections in Arkansas have reverberated far beyond the state due to the compressed timetable.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge did not say where she would seek a review, but she could ask either the Arkansas Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court for one. At least six states have used the drug for executions since 2013, and less than 2 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its use as an execution drug. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments in that case April 24.
Writing in a dissent, Associate Justice Shawn Womack lamented the court's ruling. This decision has caused lots of debate as families of the victims were relieved to finally get justice while those opposed to capital punishment spoke out against the practice.
The state was still moving forward with plans to conduct the Monday night executions in the event that all stays were lifted. The inmates wanted stays of execution while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants.
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"Multiple executions are likely to result in mental health problems for those involved in the execution process", they wrote Monday. The reason? One of the drugs used for executions, midazolam, is expiring at the end of the month, reports Time. Justices reassigned any death penalty cases from Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen, who banned the state from using a lethal injection drug a supplier said was misleadingly obtained. Arkansas' supply of one of its three lethal injection drugs, midazolam, expires April 30 and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he wants to use the drugs before they spoil. Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration after issuing the ruling Friday.
It's also unclear whether the move would prompt action from the state's Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.
At the demonstration, Griffen was strapped to a cot. The Supreme Court also found the inmate challenging midazolam had "failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain". After his lethal injection, the state meant to execute Bruce Ward, 60, who was sentenced to death in October 1990 after being convicted of killing Rebecca Doss, an 18-year-old convenience store clerk. The corrections department has not put an inmate to death since 2005, and no state has executed two inmates successfully in one day using midazolam. "After hearing the evidence ... the court is compelled to stay these executions", she said.
Rutledge is reported to be evaluating options on how to proceed.
This item has been corrected to reflect that the Arkansas Supreme Court did not issue a new order and has not addressed the state's request its stay for Bruce Earl Ward.
The lawyer would have to leave the room to use the telephone if he or she needed to file a petition during the execution, leaving inmates without counsel present, Baker said. But U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued stays Saturday so the inmates could pursue a claim that they could suffer "severe pain".
The state has appealed both rulings and asked the higher courts to work quickly to review the decisions.
"Reject the state's request for a rushed analysis of this complex record", the inmates' lawyers wrote.