Arkansas execution plan again thrown into doubt
The execution of eight death row inmates would be the most by any USA state in such a short period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
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.
Moments after the first ruling, a district judge blocked the use of one of the lethal injection drugs, halting all seven executions.
McKesson Corp. had argued that it sold Arkansas the drug vecuronium bromide for medical use, not executions.
Arkansas officials have said the executions must be conducted before the state's supply of another drug, midazolam, expires on May 1. An appeal of Johnson's stay of execution was undecided, Deere said.
"McKesson was duped. into providing the drugs", lawyer John Tull argued.
The high court did not say what Griffen had done to warrant such a sanction, but the judge had been under intense criticism for participating in a protest against the death penalty.
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 court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, two days after justices stayed the executions of two other inmates.
A lethal injection room at an unidentified prison.
As long as the order remains in place, the state is barred from proceeding with the executions of Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, which had been scheduled for today (20 April 2017).
The Supreme Court has the final say on nearly every execution, and the justices reject all but a few emergency appeals by inmates.
Griffin said he used phone calls and text messages previous year to order one of Arkansas' three execution drugs.
McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins of Little Rock told the judge he'd arranged the July 2016 sale at the request of Rory Griffin, a deputy director at the department.
At this point, the state continues to move forward as if the executions will happen. 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. 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. 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. A federal judge this month halted the last of the executions. Attorneys for the inmate filed a request Wednesday for a stay with the state's highest court.
Gray's ruling mirrors one last week from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who also blocked Arkansas from using the vecuronium bromide.
Lawyers for Arkansas inmates condemned to die Thursday in a planned double execution are claiming they are innocent and one of them says advanced DNA techniques could show he didn't kill a woman in 1993.
Arkansas officials are vowing to press ahead despite the setback to plans to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus.
Inmates can spend years, or even decades, appealing their convictions and death sentences in state and federal courts.