Arkansas Supreme Court issues stay for death row inmate


The state had originally set eight executions over an 11-day period, which would have been the most by a state in such a short period since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The second, a ruling from Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Alice Gray, effectively stays all the scheduled executions over concerns about how the state obtained one of the three drugs in its lethal injection protocol.

McKesson Corp., a San Francisco-based medical supply company, "claimed that the state deliberately circumvented them to use the drugs for executions".

Deere, the attorney general's spokesman, said the state was reviewing its options regarding Johnson's case.

McKesson attorney John Tull told the judge that the prisons department had "duped" the Virginia-based company, which has been supplying pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to the agency for more than 20 years, into providing the drugs.

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The series of 4-3 decisions blocking the start of what had been an unprecedented plan to execute eight men in 11 days were only the latest in recent years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.

The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, two days after justices stayed the executions of two other inmates.

Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in almost 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

When those appeals reach the Supreme Court, they go first to the justice who oversees the state in which the execution is scheduled. The state Supreme Court on Monday, April 17 lifted Griffen's order and prohibited the judge from considering any death penalty-related cases.

Griffin said he used phone calls and text messages a year ago to order one of Arkansas' three execution drugs.

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Immediately after Gray's decision, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced plans to appeal the ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court today.

McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins of Little Rock told the judge he'd arranged the July 2016 sale at the request of Rory Griffin, a deputy director at the department. In text messages from Jenkins' phone, which came up at a court hearing Wednesday, there is no mention that the drug would be used in executions. Pending before the U.S. 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.

New issues also arise late in the process, including questions about execution drugs.

Griffen's order was dissolved on Monday by the Arkansas Supreme Court on the basis of McKesson's decision to withdraw the lawsuit.

A judge in Pulaski County on Tuesday rejected the request for DNA testing from inmate Ledell Lee. But courts have blocked three of those executions from going forward.

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The first two inmates scheduled for execution on Monday were spared - one of them when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reverse an Arkansas Supreme Court order minutes before his death warrant expired. The state concedes the pair will not be put to death this month.