On the eve of what Arkansas officials hoped will be the state's first executions in more than a decade, they faced off with death-row inmates in multiple legal battles over whether these lethal injections would take place as scheduled.
At the heart of the fight is an unprecedented flurry of executions that have pushed Arkansas to the forefront of the American death penalty at a time when states are increasingly retreating from the practice. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) scheduled eight lethal injections to take place over an 11-day window, a pace unmatched in the modern era, which he defended as needed because one of the state's drugs is expiring this month and no replacement could be guaranteed amid an ongoing shortage.
Hours before the first execution was scheduled to begin, fights continued on several fronts in state and federal court, and Arkansas and death-row inmates both notched legal victories Monday -- one halting the executions, another removing a roadblock to carrying them out at a later time.
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday afternoon narrowly stayed the two executions scheduled to take place later that night, which came after a federal judge had previously issued an order over Easter weekend staying all the executions. Other court orders had also blocked individual executions and barred the state from using one of its lethal-injection drugs.
After the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday afternoon stayed two scheduled executions without explanation, Leslie Rutledge (R), the state's attorney general, promised to quickly seek a review of what she described as a flawed decision.
Rutledge filed a motion with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to vacate one of the two stays. Judd Deere, a spokesman for Rutledge, said she decided not to appeal the other lethal injection, which the Arkansas Supreme Court had previously stayed last week, because the state rejected her appeal against that first stay and then handed down a second one.
A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Ohio's new three-drug lethal injection process, jeopardizing the upcoming executions of several condemned killers.
In a 2-1 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati found the proposed use of a contested sedative, midazolam, unconstitutional. The court also ruled that Ohio's planned use of two other drugs the state abandoned years ago prevents their reintroduction in a new execution system.
After repeatedly saying it would no longer use those drugs — pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — "but now attempting to execute condemned inmates with these very drugs, the State had taken directly contradictory positions," Judge Karen Nelson Moore ruled for the majority.
The court also favored arguments by attorneys for death row inmates that use of another drug altogether — pentobarbital — is still an option, despite Ohio's arguments that it can't find supplies of that drug.
An appeal is likely. Options including asking the full appeals court to consider the case or appealing straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office.
The ruling was a blow to the state, which hoped to begin executing several condemned killers next month. The first of those, Ronald Phillips, is scheduled to die May 10 for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.
Allen Bohnert, a lawyer for death row inmates challenging Ohio's lethal injection system, applauded the decision, saying the appeals court was correct in rejecting the execution process.
Executions have been on hold since January 2014, when inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die under a never-before-tried two-drug method that began with midazolam. The same drug was involved in a problematic execution later that year in Arizona.
Ohio announced its three-drug method in October and said it had enough for at least four executions, though records obtained by The Associated Press indicated the supply could cover dozens of executions.
The drugs are midazolam, rocuronium bromide — like pancuronium bromide, a drug used to paralyze inmates — and potassium chloride.
The prison system used 10 milligrams of midazolam on McGuire. The new system calls for 500 milligrams. The state said there's plenty of evidence proving the larger amount will keep inmates from feeling pain.
Ohio also said the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in 2015 in a case out of Oklahoma.
The court on Thursday said arguments by death row inmates that even 500 milligrams of midazolam could lead to a risk of pain were more convincing than counterarguments from the state.
The U.S. Supreme Court says it wants to hear more arguments before deciding whether to consider New Jersey's challenge to a federal sports betting ban. The court had been expected to announce a decision Tuesday.
Instead, it asked the U.S. solicitor general to weigh in. That could mean several more months before a decision is made. New Jersey is challenging a 1992 federal law that restricts sports betting to Nevada and three other states. The four major pro sports leagues and the NCAA sued to stop New Jersey in 2012.
New Jersey claims the federal law violates the Constitution by preventing states from repealing their own laws. Several states including Mississippi, West Virginia, Arizona, Louisiana and Wisconsin have joined New Jersey's effort.
Court records show a Florida-based circus operator has agreed to a plea deal following a tent collapse in New Hampshire in 2015 that killed two people and injured dozens.
The Caledonian-Record in Vermont reports details of the plea deal involving Sarasota-based Walker International Events weren't made available.
The company had previously pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of operating without a license and to misdemeanor counts alleging it hadn't complied with state standards. Corporations can face fines and sanctions on criminal convictions.
The company, now out of business, agreed to pay federal safety fines and settled some lawsuits.
Forty-one-year-old Robert Young and his 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, of Concord, Vermont, died when a storm with 75 mph winds blew through the Lancaster Fairgrounds, toppling the tent.