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Since states resumed executions in 1976 after the Supreme Court suspended use of the death penalty in 1972 and then reinstated its use four years later, only twice have eight inmates been executed within a single month.

On Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court halted Ward's execution after lawyers for the inmate argued he was mentally incompetent. She said the plan to execute these men in such a short period of time brought about "an extraordinary response from so many people calling for a culture of life and an end to this practice of retribution".

Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback to the state's plan to resume capital punishment for the first time in almost 12 years with a ruling sparing an inmate just minutes before his death warrant was set to expire.

In federal court testimony last week, doctors differed on whether midazolam is an appropriate execution drug, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in 2015 that it is.

"Both Mr. Ward and Mr. Davis were denied independent mental health experts to help their defense attorneys investigate, understand and present these critical mental health issues to the jury", Scott Braden, an attorney representing both men said in a statement. They've argued that Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability.

The state's supreme court added more fuel to the fire on Monday when it ordered a circuit judge in Pulaski County to be barred from hearing any further death penalty cases.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the prisoners' appeal in February, along with another case from Alabama.

The state was still moving forward with plans to conduct the Monday night executions in the event that all stays were lifted, with Davis being served his last meal of fried chicken, rolls, beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake. It overturned a federal judge's decision over the weekend to temporarily stay the executions. The issue in that case is about one of the drugs scheduled to be used in the lethal injections. However, the 8th Circuit decision today overturning Judge Baker's stay and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling vacating Judge Griffen's temporary restraining order mean that the courts have once again cleared the state to proceed with carrying out the sentences of the other inmates.

There are still five Arkansas executions scheduled before the end of April; a state parole board voted to recommend one of the original eight death row inmates, Jason McGehee, for clemency.

But the state high court's ruling halting the executions remains in effect. Even double executions on the same day are rare - the last time it was attempted, by Oklahoma in 2014, it led to a "bloody mess".

Rutledge was quick to respond to the Supreme Court's decision. The state scheduled such a compressed schedule because of the expiration of its supply of midazolam.

The drugs used in lethal injections by some American states - 19 of the 50 no longer execute prisoners - have become increasingly hard to obtain.

The company - which contractually prohibits its drugs from being used in executions - alleged the state purchased the drugs under false pretenses.

Volunteer witnesses had been moved to the execution chamber while local media organizations - who were not allowed pens, paper or any recording devices - waited nearby in prison vans.

If court proceedings are pushed into May, Arkansas will not be able to carry out the executions with the drugs it has on hand.

However, a blanket ban was made on Saturday blocking all the executions.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said the state would continue to push for the other lethal injections to be carried out.

If the state sanctioned killing takes place, it is expected to be one of eleven originally planned for this month.

The state and federal judges' rulings are both under appeal by the state.


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