Judge Who Blocked Use Of Execution Drug Protests Death Penalty
Above Photo: JASON REED / REUTERS
Arkansas’ plan to execute eight prisoners in 11 days has been a matter of life, death and, now, free speech.
Amid the legal battle over Arkansas’ plan to execute as many as eight prisoners in 11 days, one of the judges that ruled against the state has angered death penalty supporters with a dramatic protest of capital punishment.
On Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order blocking Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs in its lethal injection cocktail. Griffen granted the order after McKesson Medical-Surgical, which does not want its product used in executions, petitioned to stop the state on the grounds that the drug had been misleadingly obtained.
Within an hour of issuing that order, Griffen joined anti-death penalty protesters gathered outside Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s mansion in Little Rock. Griffen was dressed as an inmate and bound to a cot with ropes to look like a condemned prisoner on a gurney.
— Mitchell McCoy (@MitchellMcCoy) April 14, 2017
— Senator Trent Garner (@Garner4Senate) April 15, 2017
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) raised the issue of Griffen’s protest in amotion to have his temporary restraining order thrown out and him removed from the case. The state argued that Griffen couldn’t be considered even “remotely impartial” when it comes to the death penalty.
“As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case,” a spokesman for Rutledge said in a statement. “Attorney General Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible.”
The state also took issue with a recent post on Griffen’s personal blog, which interweaves justice and religion. The judge wrote:
Premeditated and deliberate killing of defenseless persons ― including defenseless persons who have been convicted of murder ― is not morally justifiable. Using medications designed for treating illness and preserving life to engage in such premeditated and deliberate killing is not morally justifiable.
Griffen, a former Baptist minister and a lawyer, has faced criticism for his off-the-bench commentary before.
He criticized the University of Arkansas’ lack of racial diversity in 2002 and attacked President George W. Bush for the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War in 2005. The latter may have been part of the reason he lost his re-election bid for the Arkansas Court of Appeals a few years later. In 2011, he won a seat on the state’s 6th Circuit court.
“We have never, in my knowledge, been so afraid to admit that people can have personal beliefs yet can follow the law, even when to follow the law means they must place their personal feelings aside,” Griffen told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Griffen’s ruling on Friday had put another wrench in the state’s plan to start the series of eight executions on Monday and complete them before its supply of one hard-to-obtain lethal injection drug expired. Two of the eight prisoners had already been granted stays of execution when a federal judge on Saturday halted those of the remaining inmates on grounds that the state’s hasty schedule denied them due process.
McKesson Medical-Surgical moved to lift Griffen’s temporary restraining order following the federal court ruling, arguing that the order had become unnecessary.
UPDATE: On Monday, April 17, the Arkansas Supreme Court removed Judge Griffen from all death penalty-related cases in Pulaski County. Griffen will also be referred to the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, which will determine if he has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.
“To protect the integrity of the judicial system this court has a duty to ensure that all are given a fair and impartial tribunal,” the two-page order reads. “We find it necessary to immediately reassign all cases in the Fifth Division that involve the death penalty or the state’s execution protocol, whether civil or criminal.”
Griffen was not immediately available for comment.