Two executions of murderers halted hours before they were due to die

But amid public opposition to the death penalty, including protests in the state capital Little Rock including actor Johnny Depp and a judge linked to one of the cases, lawyers obtained stays for three of the executions. Two pharmaceutical companies filed a court brief last week asking a federal judge to block Arkansas from using their drugs, but the judge did not rule on that issue. But the Supreme Court declined to intervene early Tuesday, leaving the state supreme court's stay in effect and sparing Davis' life for the time being.

A death row inmate in the USA state of Arkansas ate what could be his last meal on Monday amid legal wrangling over his fate.

That case, McWilliams v. Dunn from Alabama, is scheduled for oral argument next week and involves legal questions about expert testimony at criminal trials.

Bruce Ward and Don Davis had originally been the first of eight Arkansas inmates scheduled to die within 11 days of each other.

But Hutchinson set off an worldwide furor when, in February, he scheduled eight executions that were to take place over less than two weeks in April. But the Arkansas court's choice to stop Davis' execution could extend his case for much longer, perhaps years, because the state is on the verge of having part of its drug supply lapse.

The state has appealed both rulings and asked the higher courts to work quickly to review the decisions. The lawyers say Ward has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenia while Davis has an IQ low enough to be considered to have an intellectual disability.

Arkansas hasn't executed anybody for more than a decade, partly because of a series of legal challenges to the state's death penalty laws.

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The state scheduled the executions to occur before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month; Arkansas has not found a new supplier of the drug.

It was used in executions in three USA states in 2014 that took longer than usual.

The state attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, vowed to press on with five other executions this week, including two set for Thursday. The canceled execution of a condemned prisoner here was a significant setback for the state, which had sought to put eight men to death this month, before its stock of a lethal injection drug expired.

In a statement, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed his "frustration in the continued delayed justice". The Innocence Project joined Johnson's attorneys Monday in filing a request for a stay of execution in the Sevier County Circuit Court. The state supreme court granted the stays in light of the pending federal case.

The legal team representing the inmates argues the state's rapid execution schedule increases the likelihood the procedures will be botched, and that the drugs used amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

In the current case, drug company McKesson obtained a temporary restraining order against Arkansas for allegedly obtaining a supply of drugs under false pretences, writes the New York Times.

But Hutchinson said that the state, which has not conducted an execution since 2005, would continue to push to carry out its quick-fire executions. McKesson cited a testimony from Rory Griffin, ADC Deputy Director, in which he said ADC "undertook these actions" knowing that the manufacturer of the drug doesn't permit it to be used in executions. Protesters gather outside the state Capitol building on Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark., to voice their opposition to Arkansas' seven upcoming executions.

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