LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas doesn't have to immediately turn over information about the source of its execution drugs, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Friday, noting that it was considering the state's request for a longer delay.
The order offered no details but came about an hour before a noon deadline to release the information that was set Thursday by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen. Griffen sided with death row inmates who filed a lawsuit challenging the secrecy portion of the state's execution law, saying drug suppliers do not have a constitutional right to be free from criticism.
The Arkansas attorney general's office asked for the temporary stay late Thursday, and said it planned to appeal Griffen's overall rulings soon. The high court asked attorneys for both sides to submit written arguments for whether a longer stay should be granted, with the state's brief due first on Dec. 14.
An attorney for the inmates, Jeff Rosenzweig, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.
The high court's succinct order didn't detail its reasons for granting the stay. Associate Justice Paul E. Danielson dissented, but didn't elaborate.
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Oct. 20 put all eight of the state's scheduled executions on hold until the lawsuit could be heard.
The inmates have argued that without disclosure of the source and other information they had no way to determine whether the midazolam, vecuronium bromide or potassium chloride obtained by the state would lead to cruel and unusual punishment.
The inmates also argued that the secrecy law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information. The state has said that agreement is not a binding contract.
Griffen agreed with the inmates on both arguments Thursday. "It is common knowledge that capital punishment is not universally popular," Griffen wrote. "That reality is not a legitimate reason to shield the entities that manufacture, supply, distribute, and sell lethal injection drugs from public knowledge."
Griffen also noted that a federal judge in Ohio last month granted a protective order to allow that state to maintain secrecy about the drugs, but said that court erred because it accepted "what it acknowledged as no proof of 'a single known threat'" as an indicator that disclosing a state's source for drugs would pose an undue burden on that state.
The inmates responded to Arkansas' request for a stay early Friday, saying the state had not proven it would be irreparably harmed by the disclosure because it already has the drugs.
Earlier this year, The Associated Press identified three pharmaceutical companies that likely made Arkansas' lethal injection drugs; each company said it objects to its drugs being used for executions. London-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals, the likely maker of the state's supply of midazolam, previously ended its contract to sell pharmaceuticals to Arkansas after the Department of Correction tried to use a different drug made by one of its subsidiaries for executions. The state has refused to answer requests from the company to confirm it has Hikma's midazolam.
Midazolam, a sedative, gained notoriety after being used during executions that took longer than expected last year in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the drug's use in executions.
This story has been corrected to show the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the executions on Oct. 20, not Oct. 16; and that the state's brief is due on Dec. 14, not the brief from the inmates' attorneys.