Supplier: Drug sold to Arkansas not intended for executions

(AP) — A judge was weighing Friday whether to block Arkansas’ seven upcoming executions, set to begin next week, as a medical supplier said one of the three drugs the state plans to use to put the prisoners to death wasn’t sold to be used for lethal injection.

Two pharmaceutical companies on Thursday filed a court brief seeking to halt the executions, while San Francisco-based medical supply company McKesson said it sold Arkansas one drug believing it would be used for medical purposes.

Under Arkansas’ protocol, midazolam is used to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide then stops the inmate’s breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart.

Arkansas plans to execute seven inmates before the end of April, when its supply of midazolam expires. Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered outside the Arkansas Capitol on Friday to protest the state’s plan, including the actor Johnny Depp and former Arkansas death row inmate Damien Echols, who was freed in 2011.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker is considering the inmates’ arguments that such a compressed schedule could lead to undue pain and suffering, as well as the drugmakers’ desire that their products not be used for capital punishment.

McKesson sold the state vecuronium bromide. In a statement Thursday night, McKesson said it complained to the state after learning that Arkansas planned to use the drug for lethal injections. The state said it would return the drug, McKesson said, and the company issued a refund, but the drug was never returned.

McKesson said it is considering “all possible means” to get the drug back, including legal action.

A prisons spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office did not have an immediate comment on the supplier’s statement.

The Associated Press last year used redacted drug labels to identify Hospira, which was purchased by Pfizer, as the likely manufacturer of vecuronium bromide. Pfizer has objected to the use of its drugs in lethal injections and has put controls in place to prevent them from being used in executions. Pfizer said McKesson sold the drug to Arkansas without Pfizer’s knowledge. The company said it has asked the state twice to return any restricted Pfizer or Hospira drugs.

Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. filed a friend of the court brief objecting to their drugs’ use in the executions. Fresenius Kabi said it appeared it had manufactured the potassium chloride the state plans to use, while West-Ward had previously been identified by the AP as the likely manufacturer of the state’s midazolam.

Baker is expected to rule Friday on the inmates’ request to halt the executions. The lawsuit is among a flurry of challenges to the executions.

The timeline drew condemnation from death penalty opponents, who waved signs including a large banner that read, “We remember the victims … But not with more killing.” The rally was headlined by Echols, who spent nearly 18 years on Arkansas’ death row before he and two other men, known as the West Memphis Three, were freed in 2011 in a plea deal in which they maintained their innocence.

“I didn’t want to come back, but when I heard about the conveyor belt of death that the politicians were trying to set in motion, I guess I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t come back and try to do something,” said Echols, who now lives in New York.

Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005 because of drug shortages and legal challenges. If carried out, the executions would mark the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period in modern history.