Arkansas's plans to execute eight prisoners in just 10 days faced new setbacks Friday, after a judge blocked use of a key lethal injection drug and one of the inmates got a top court reprieve.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order barring authorities in the southern US state from using vecuronium bromide, which the state had planned to use for its executions.
The move came after drug distributor McKesson Corporation asked the court to ban the anesthetic.
Griffen set a hearing for early Tuesday, one day after the state -- which has not carried out an execution since 2005 -- had planned to begin the series of lethal injections.
There have been mounting protests over the executions in front of the state Capitol in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The state's attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, plans to appeal the judge's ruling.
"As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case," she said in a statement, referring to a demonstration in which Griffen is said to have participated.
Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for one of the death row inmates -- 60-year-old Bruce Ward -- without explanation.
"We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about his sanity," Ward's attorney Scott Braden was cited as saying.
"He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that. Instead, they give the power to director of the department of corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not. That is both unfair and unconstitutional."
Last week, a federal judge granted another prisoner, Jason McGehee, a 30-day reprieve to consider a clemency petition.
No other state has scheduled as many executions in 10 days since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.