Execution halted for fourth of eight men set to die in Arkansas


The justices and their clerks know well in advance when executions are scheduled and where.

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections.

The state high court decision was one of two setbacks Wednesday to Arkansas' bid to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray on Wednesday granted a temporary restraining order to McKesson Corp.

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". Pfizer's official policy does not allow for the use of its drugs in executions.

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Stacey Johnson was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of Carol Heath in 1993, who was killed in her home while her 6-year old daughter watched. The state set such a compressed schedule because its supply of one of the lethal injection drugs expires at the end of April.

"In preparation for their scheduled executions, Johnson and Lee were moved Tuesday to the Cummins Unit, the location of the state's execution chamber, a prisons spokesman said Wednesday".

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. A third man has received a stay from a federal judge over issues with his clemency schedule.

A deputy director of the Arkansas prison system says he deliberately ordered an execution drug in a way so there wouldn't be a paper trail. According to a state prison official's testimony in the drug case, he "deliberately ordered the drugs previous year in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages". He said he didn't keep records of the texts, but a McKesson representative did. Griffin said he did tell Jenkins. 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.

Moments earlier, the Arkansas Supreme Court had granted a stay of execution to inmate Stacey Johnson, who had been set to die Thursday. Attorneys for Bruce Ward and Don Davis, who had faced lethal injection Monday night, said the executions should be put off until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending case involving inmates' access to independent mental health experts.

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Last week, a federal judge in Little Rock blocked the executions, citing concerns with the sedative midazolam that has been used in problematic executions in other states.

"In doing so, ADC led McKesson to believe that the order was placed at the request of or for the benefit of the licensed physician and would be used for a legitimate medical goal", McKesson said in the court document.

Two executions are set for Thursday, followed by another double execution Monday and a single execution April 27. A federal judge this month halted the last of the executions. Johnson's attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, wants a court to order new DNA testing on hair found in the victim's apartment and on clothing that prosecutors found at a rest stop and linked to Johnson.

Expect another long day of legal wrangling Thursday over Arkansas' plan to execute inmates in the coming week. Five inmates still face execution over the next two weeks, and they've filed a series of court challenges in hopes of stopping that. But courts have blocked three of those executions from going forward.

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