Arkansas suffered two more legal setbacks Wednesday in its unprecedented plan to carry out multiple executions this month when the state supreme court halted one and a judge later ruled that the state can not use one of its drugs in any executions.
By the time an execution takes place or is stopped, often after the inmate has been fed his intended final meal, four or more different courts are supposed to have examined the trial record, legal issues, newly discovered evidence, assertions of innocence and claims of constitutional violations.
Stacey Johnson was convicted of killing Carol Heath in 1993 in Sevier County, AR.
It was unclear whether Rutledge would appeal the stay of execution for Johnson to the U.S. Supreme Court after the state lost an appeal to the high court on a case involving another inmate Monday night.
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The Arkansas Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution for one of the executions set for Thursday.
KTVH reports that anti-death penalty protesters have camped out in front of the governor's mansion in Little Rock in the weeks leading to the decision. The state concedes the pair will not be put to death this month.
The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty supporters including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson frustrated and critical of the high court.
Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first executions in almost 12 years has been thwarted by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary. The State of Arkansas also argued that granted this restraining order would essentially cause a stay of execution, which the state said Judge Gray didn't have the authority to do. ABC News reports that McKesson thought they had sold the drug to the state for medical use only and "that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out".
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Last Friday, Arkansas' Supreme Court suspended, with no explanation, the execution of prisoner Bruce Ward planned for Monday this week. McKesson seeks an order that would force prison officials to return the company's supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the state's lethal injection protocol. 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. 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.
The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice past year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her.
Lawyers for the inmates set to be executed Thursday are relying primarily on claims the men are innocent. On Tuesday, a state judge denied a motion from Lee's lawyers for DNA testing. There are no current stays blocking those executions, but both inmates have pending court challenges.
The situation is a familiar one for Rebecca Petty, whose daughter's killer was granted a reprieve by federal courts hours before his execution in 2004.
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Arkansas' store of midazolam is set to expire at the end of April, one of the reasons for the rushed schedule of executions.