AR Supreme Court Grants Stay of Execution for Inmate Stacey Johnson
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.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted one of two executions set for Thursday, saying the condemned inmate should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.
The Arkansas attorney general's office countered in a court filing Wednesday that the inmates' request was a last-minute effort to "manipulate the judicial process".
Lawyers for the state were asking courts to clear a path for a double execution scheduled for Thursday night. Since 2011, many European drug companies, in an alignment with the European Union's objection to death penalty, have chose to cease shipment of their drugs to US prisons that carry out executions via lethal injections. McKesson Corp. says the state obtained the drug under false pretenses and that it wants nothing to do with executions.
The state had earlier planned to execute eight inmates over 10 days starting April 17, before Arkansas' supply of the drug runs out at the end of the month. 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.
In the drug case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug a year ago in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages.
On Wednesday, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Alice Gray agreed with McKesson and issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) barring use of one of the lethal injection drugs, namely Vecuronium bromide. Arkansas Department of Correction Deputy Director Rory Griffin said he didn't keep records of the texts, but McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins did. The state can ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider its decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday opted not to vacate a separate stay involving inmate Don Davis. 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. McGuire's execution lasted 25 minutes, the longest in Ohio's history, and witnesses said he "gasped several times throughout" before dying.
Another justice objecting to the rulings, Rhonda Wood, wrote in a dissent that Wednesday's stay "gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court".
Arkansas plans to execute Lee and another inmate, Stacey Johnson, on Thursday night. On Tuesday, a state judge denied the DNA test for Lee.
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. "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".
Pharmaceuticals companies and other suppliers have objected to their drugs being used in executions and have been trying to stop states from getting supplies for lethal injections. The reporting on these drugs shows that all three drugs used in Arkansas' lethal injection cocktail are implicated in legal battles.
It's unclear whether the new execution obstacles would have any political fallout for the court.