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This March 25, 2017, photo shows a sign for the Department of Correction's Cummins Unit prison in Varner, Ark. Eight prisoners have been scheduled to die at the prison in April as Arkansas rushes to use an execution drug that expires at the end of the month. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)
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Arkansas judge opens hearing on bid to stop 7 executions

This March 25, 2017, photo shows a sign for the Department of Correction's Cummins Unit prison in Varner, Ark. Eight prisoners have been scheduled to die at the prison in April as Arkansas rushes to use an execution drug that expires at the end of the month. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Lawyers for seven Arkansas inmates scheduled to die this month because a key execution drug will soon expire went to federal court Monday to argue that the state’s aggressive plan raises the risk that their deaths will be cruel and unusual.

Without court intervention, Arkansas will execute more than 20 percent of its 34 death row inmates by the end of the month, when a key sedative expires. The main arguments from lawyers for the condemned men are along two lines: legal teams that represent multiple clients are spread too thin to be effective and stress in the death chamber will be so high that executioners will make a mistake.

“The lawyers … are forced to make numerous choices between the interests of one client over another, thus creating multiple conflicts of interest,” the inmates’ lawyers said Monday in documents filed ahead of the hearing. The attorneys say later that scheduling so many executions in a short time “violates the evolved standards of decency in this country.”

Lee Rudofsky, representing the state of Arkansas, said the inmates’ arguments have been heard in other courts and that they aren’t entitled to an unlimited number of legal battles.

“Enough is enough,” he said. He told U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker that the inmates’ lawsuit — filed three weeks before the first execution next Monday — is “the smart play here” but asked her to let Arkansas conduct its first executions since 2005.

Separately Monday, the Arkansas Parole Board rejected a clemency request from Jack Harold Jones Jr., who is one of the seven and is scheduled to die as part of a double-execution April 24. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has the final say on the panel’s recommendation.

The seven men are scheduled to die between April 17 and April 27. Another inmate has received a stay. They fear that a key sedative, midazolam, won’t prevent them from feeling the pain caused when other drugs shut down their lungs and heart. Baker initially set aside three days for the hearing but said Monday it will take most of the week.

An anesthesiology professor at Emory University in Atlanta testified by video Monday that the men could suffer agonizing deaths with potassium chloride destroying their veins after a megadose of vecuronium bromide paralyzes them.

“They experience everything. They’re just not able to articulate it,” Dr. Joel Zivot said. “Their lack of movement here is a function of being paralyzed. It has nothing to do with their ability to gauge what’s going on around them.”

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