Copy-Arkansas judge strikes secrecy portion of execution law


Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas judge has struck down a portion of the state's law that keeps secret details about the drugs used in executions, saying Thursday that drug suppliers do not have a constitutional right to be free from criticism.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen sided with death row inmates who challenged a law passed by lawmakers this year that prevents disclosure about the drugs that are used in executions. The judge also ordered the state to disclose drug details by noon Friday.

"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."

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had no immediate comment, saying the office was still reviewing the order.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that the judge's decision was "troubling" because the drug suppliers were assured confidentiality, he said, "so a sale was accomplished based upon that law and that promise of confidentiality."

"There's already a stay of the executions at issue by the court and so I can't see any necessity for the immediate disclosure of that information," he said. The Republican also said he needs to talk with Rutledge's office and legal counsel about the next steps, but said seeking a stay from the state Supreme Court is an option.

Under the state's new execution secrecy law, the Department of Correction has withheld the manufacturer and distributor of midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride obtained last year, as well as other information.

The inmates had argued that the state's secrecy law is unconstitutional and they want information on the drugs' makers and suppliers to determine whether they could lead to cruel and unusual punishment. They also argued the secrecy law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information. The state has said the agreement is not a binding contract.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney representing the inmates, declined to comment on the ruling Thursday.

Griffen agreed with the inmates on both counts and noted that Arkansas has a law outlining humane euthanization practices for animals.

"The court rejects the notion that domestic pets and livestock in Arkansas have the right to die free of unjustifiable or prolonged pain, but that the constitutional guarantee against 'cruel or unusual punishment' found in the Arkansas Constitution allows people who commit murders to be put to death as if they have no entitlement to such right," he wrote.

Arkansas last executed an inmate in 2005.

Associated Press writers Andrew DeMillo and Jill Bleed contributed to this report.

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