A rally at the State Capitol in Little Rock on Friday against Arkansas’s plans to carry out seven executions in 10 days. (Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times)

A judge in Arkansas moved Friday to block the state from carrying out up to seven executions this month, deepening the turmoil that surrounds a planned pace of killing with no equal in the modern history of American capital punishment.

Judge Wendell Griffen of the Pulaski County Circuit Court issued a restraining order Friday that forbids the Arkansas authorities from using their supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three execution drugs the state planned to use. Hours earlier, the nation’s largest pharmaceutical company went to court to argue that the state had purchased the drug using a false pretense.

The judge scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning, about 14 hours after the state had intended to carry out its first execution since 2005. The Arkansas attorney general’s office said the state would appeal the judge’s ruling, which threatened to derail a plan that once called for eight executions over the course of 10 days.

The restraining order surfaced during an afternoon and evening of legal chaos: The State Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for one death row prisoner, and a federal judge was also weighing a request to block the executions. Yet Judge Griffen’s order appeared to have the widest immediate effect, and it was the first to focus on the misgivings of the pharmaceutical industry.

Four companies have publicly raised concerns about how the Arkansas Department of Correction came to stockpile the drugs for its lethal injection cocktail — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — but only the McKesson Corporation, the drug distributor that ranks fifth on the Fortune 500 list of companies, made an explicit allegation of deception.

Arkansas, the company said, bought 10 boxes of vecuronium bromide, which the state can use to stop a prisoner’s breathing.

But the state prison system “never disclosed its intended purpose to us for these products,” a lawyer for McKesson, Ethan M. Posner, wrote in a letter obtained by The New York Times. “To the contrary, it purchased the products on an account that was opened under the valid medical license of an Arkansas physician, implicitly representing that the products would only be used for a legitimate medical purpose.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Alan Blinder