Arkansas court blocks 1 execution set for Thursday

Late Wednesday night the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the execution of Stacey Johnson who was set to die by lethal injection Thursday, Reuters reports sending his case has been sent back to trial for reconsideration of DNA evidence.

"Irreparable harm will result".

A state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug previous year in a way that there would not be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages, the AP news agency reported. In addition, a group of Arkansas death-row inmates has filed another emergency stay request with the U.S. supreme court, this time challenging the state's plan for a flurry of executions before the end of April, when Arkansas' supply of an execution drug expires.

Arkansas officials are vowing to press ahead with the Thursday executions despite the setback to plans to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus. Attorneys for the inmate filed a request Wednesday for a stay with the state's highest court.

In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a stay for Stacey Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make his claims. In federal court, Lee said a string of incompetent lawyers failed to make the case that he is intellectually disabled and thus ineligible to be executed. They won stays from the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday after lawyers argued their mental health issues were similar enough to those raised in an Alabama case going before the U.S. Supreme Court next week. A third man has received a stay from a federal judge over issues with his clemency schedule.

Then, last Friday, Arkansas' Supreme Court suspended, with no explanation, the execution of prisoner Bruce Ward planned for Monday this week.

The company said that it "would not knowingly sell any prescription drug to [Arkansas Department of Correction] for any goal unless the ADC had a current medical license to file". Johnson says that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn't kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas apartment.

When those appeals reach the Supreme Court, they go first to the justice who oversees the state in which the execution is scheduled.

Johnson and Ledell Lee, the other prisoner who was scheduled to be executed tonight, both say they are innocent.

Court decisions in recent weeks, both from the state and US Supreme Courts, had granted all eight inmates a temporary reprieve, but some were overturned.

Only one inmate, Ledell Lee, was still scheduled to be executed Thursday night when a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge granted a restraining order on the lethal injection drug, vecuronium bromide, purchased from distributor McKesson Medical-Surgical. Arkansas department of correction deputy director Rory Griffin said he didn't keep records of the texts, but McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins did.

In text messages from Jenkins' phone, which came up at Wednesday's court hearing, there is no mention that the drug would be used in executions.

Pending before the US Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight inmates, who contend the compressed execution schedule increased the likelihood of a botched execution and that one of the three drugs, midazolam, has been proven ineffective in rendering unconsciousness prior to administration of the two lethal agents.

  • Larry Hoffman