Arkansas' multiple execution plan appearing to unravel

On Friday, hours before Judge Griffen's order, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of execution to Bruce Ward, who was to be put to death on Monday.

Protesters gather outside the Arkansas Capitol in Little Rock on.

The executions in Arkansas had been arranged to take place before a batch of one of the drugs used by the state expires later this month.

As many as eight state executions scheduled to begin next week in rapid succession may not go ahead as planned, as Arkansas has been blocked from using a drug obtained from McKesson Corporation for lethal use.

The suppliers of the muscle relaxant, vecuronium bromide, argued that it had been sold to the prison system on the understanding it would be used exclusively for medical purposes.

Midazolam - one part of the three-drug lethal injection "cocktail" - is set to expire at the end of April, and has been criticised as contributing to several botched executions in other states. The state's plan to execute eight inmates over 11 days, an unprecedented schedule, prompted criticism from former corrections officials and has drawn national attention. "Attorney General (Leslie) Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible".

"As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case". The executions have been scheduled to start Monday night. Attorneys asked for the stay after a Jefferson County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution. According to his attorney, Scott Braden, Bruce Ward is mentally ill and "has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it". Baker had not ruled by Friday evening.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has defended the timeline of the executions, citing the expiration date of the state's supply of midazolam.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which prohibits the use of its drugs in executions, said Thursay that McKesson, a distributor, had sold one of its products to the Arkansas Department of Corrections "in direct violation of our policy". The firm said Thursday night the state had assured it would return the drug and the company had even issued a refund, but it never was given back. Instead, they give the power to director of the Department of Corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not.

"Without the medical license, and the associated tacit representation that the controlled drug would only be used for a legitimate medical goal, McKesson would not have sold the vecuronium to ADC", the company said in its lawsuit.

The McKesson drug, vecuronium bromide, would be used to stop an inmate's breathing, according to the Democrat-Gazette.

The drug prompted controversy after it was used in a bungled execution in Oklahoma and in lethal injections that were prolonged and included inmates gasping for breath in Ohio, Arizona and in Alabama, The Washington Post reported.

Arkansas' execution timeline drew condemnation from hundreds of death penalty opponents who rallied at the Capitol waving signs including a large banner that read, "We remember the victims".

Defense lawyers argued that midazolam - the drug used to render inmates unconscious before they are given two more drugs that paralyze and kill them - does not effectively keep those being executed from experiencing a painful death.