Court rulings block 2 scheduled executions today in Arkansas

9 Death Row Inmates Turn to SCOTUS Request Emergency Stays of Execution

The state says the executions need to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug, midazolam, expires on April 30.

The Arkansas Supreme Court halted one of two executions set for Thursday, but in what could be a more severe setback, a judge barred the state from using one of the lethal drugs.

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 initial plan to execute eight inmates over 11 days before Arkansas' supply of an execution drug expires.

Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee are shown in these booking photo provided.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Alice Gray in Little Rock has granted a temporary injunction in favor of the drug supplier McKesson Corp.

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said the state will appeal Gray's ruling.

In its 4-3 ruling, the state's highest court followed the same split it did on Monday, when it halted two other executions involving different inmates.

"Because (Lee), like Stacey Johnson, has never gotten a hearing on his DNA petition, and has maintained his innocence for over two decades, we are hopeful that the Arkansas Supreme Court will also grant him a stay and give him a hearing on the DNA evidence", said the Innocence Project's Nina Morrison, who is one of Lee's attorneys.

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That plan prompted what death penalty experts have said was an unprecedented array of legal filings, and raised questions about US death chamber protocols and lethal injection drug mixes. McKesson withdrew that suit after the executions were stayed by a United States federal court, but re-filed its petition yesterday evening after that court's stay was lifted.

Arkansas inmates set for a series of executions before the end of the month have filed a new request for stays. They say there is a public health risk if their drugs are diverted for use in executions, and that the state's possession of the drugs violates rules within their distribution networks.

Four of the eight inmates have received stays on unrelated issues.

In the vecuronium bromide case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug past year in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages. 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 a court hearing Wednesday, there is no mention that the drug would be used in executions.

One of the three dissenting judges issued a blistering criticism of Monday's ruling sparing the first two condemned inmates.

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. But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that order Monday, and the inmates appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Arkansas obtained these drugs from McKesson through a sustained campaign of deception, which saw it deliberately mislead the company about the products' intended objective then renege on a promise to return them after they were given a full refund.

An inmate set to die Thursday night is asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to block his execution so he can pursue more DNA tests in hopes of proving his innocence.