USA

Arkansas inmates hit roadblocks in bid to stop executions

Arkansas inmates hit roadblocks in bid to stop executions

The state Supreme Court also lifted a lower court ruling preventing the state from using another lethal injection drug that a supplier said was sold to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

Late Wednesday night the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the execution of Stacey Johnson who was set to die by lethal injection Thursday, Reuters reports sending his case has been sent back to trial for reconsideration of DNA evidence.

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.

Anti-death penalty supporter Randy Gardner, right, embraces Abraham Bonowitz, left, after they read on his phone the 11:45 p.m., decision to halt the execution in their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark. Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The Arkansas Supreme Court recognized that executing either man, before the Court answers this question. would be profoundly arbitrary and unjust", Scott Braden, an assistant federal public defender for the inmates, said Monday. One of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night.

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Johnson and Ledell Lee, the other prisoner who was scheduled to be executed tonight, both say they are innocent. Lawyers for Arkansas inmate Lee are working at both the state and federal level to get a court to block Lee's execution, scheduled for Thursday. Instead, the action came from a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was "surprised and disappointed" by Wednesday's state Supreme Court stay of Johnson's execution.

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".

The inmates argue the 8th Circuit Court doesn't seem to follow the precedent set by other judicial proceedings, so they want the Supreme Court to consider their case. But death penalty appeals nearly always are referred to the entire court. None of the campaign material mentioned the death penalty.

But while Goodson voted to stay the three executions, so did the conservative-backed candidate who beat her in the chief justice race, Dan Kemp. Goodson had touted her commitment to conservative values, while Kemp said in a campaign ad he would be guided by "prayer, not politics".

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U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on April 15 issued a stay of Arkansas' scheduled executions in a 101-page ruling in a lawsuit challenging the state's lethal-injection protocol.

But Arkansas has faced a wave of legal challenges, and the latest ruling from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray over the drug vecuronium bromide upends the entire schedule.

Conservative groups spent heavily past year to back two candidates in Supreme Court races. 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 Davis.

Johnson's attorneys requested additional DNA testing on evidence that they say could prove his innocence in the 1993 rape and killing of Carol Heath.

"The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law", wrote Justice Shawn Womack, a former Republican legislator whose rival previous year was also targeted by conservative groups.

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"Today, our court gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court", Justice Rhonda Wood wrote in a dissenting opinion Wednesday.


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