Arkansas execution plan again thrown into doubt


The Arkansas attorney general's office is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject execution stays for a group of death row inmates, including five who are set for lethal injection over the next two weeks.

The court said the condemned inmate should have a chance at proving his innocence with further DNA testing.

The stay for Johnson stemmed from a bid to have an evidentiary hearing related to his request for DNA testing to prove his innocence.

Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case.

The court's 4-3 decision to stop the execution of Stacey Johnson, 47, brought to four the number of inmates to get at least a temporary reprieve amid an effort by the state to put eight inmates to death in a period of 11 days this month.

"McKesson was duped. into providing the drugs", lawyer John Tull argued. A court official informally known as the death clerk keeps everyone up to date and communicates often with lawyers for inmates and the states as the date of execution nears.

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 contends it must act quickly because one of the drugs in its lethal injection mix, the valium-like sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April.

"That's something we had sought from the state and federal courts and had been denied, and we're making another run at it and showing that there are new techniques that came into effect literally this year that can provide results that can bear on the case", Rosenzweig said. Under that timeline, the state would be unable to execute Ward and Davis before its supply of midazolam expires April 30.

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While both of Wednesday's rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when another of its drugs expires.

The high court's order sparing Davis offered no explanation, but none of the justices voted in favor of lifting the stay. But Arkansas has faced a wave of legal challenges. The company argued that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out.

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

Two inmates are scheduled for execution Thursday night with three more executions planned for next week.

The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice previous year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her. The Washington Post reports that he was "surprised and disappointed" by the decisions made by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Ledell Lee appears in Pulaski County circuit court Tuesday, 18 April.

Lawyers for the inmates set to be executed Thursday are relying primarily on claims the men are innocent. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law".

Occasionally, one or more justices will dissent from the decision to let the execution take place.