Published: Fri, April 21, 2017
U.S. | By Eddie Scott

Arkansas Judge Blocks State From Using Drug For Lethal Injections

Arkansas Judge Blocks State From Using Drug For Lethal Injections

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's lawyers say that the child's testimony has been proven unreliable by experts and that his execution should be put on hold to allow for new DNA testing, the kind of which was unavailable in 1993 when Johnson was on trial.

Also on Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an order staying a fourth execution scheduled to occur a little more than 24 hours later.

This combination of undated photos provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows death-row inmates Stacey E. Johnson, left, and Ledell Lee. Lee is fighting in federal and state courts for a similar stay. The first two executions were canceled because of court decisions. Legal rulings have put the others in doubt.

Gray sided with McKesson Corp., which had argued that it sold Arkansas the drug for medical use, not executions, and that it would suffer harm financially and to its reputation if the executions were carried out.

The legal maneuvers frustrated Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had set the execution schedule less than two months ago. Anti-death penalty supporters Abraham Bonowitz, left, and Randy Gardner wait near their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark.

The court noted that the inmates "have a long history of filing and dismissing claims to manipulate the judicial process and prevent Arkansas from carrying out their executions".

The state also has had to face criticism from drug companies unhappy that their products may be used in executions.

The companies have said they believe they manufactured the other two drugs Arkansas has for the executions, which are set for Thursday night. Hutchinson said that it was not his preference, but that it is necessary because one of the state's lethal-injection drugs will expire at the end of the month.

And late on Monday, after inmate Don Davis ate what was supposed to be his "last meal" and just minutes before his execution, the US Supreme Court gave a last-minute ruling sparing him.

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. Their one-paragraph order did not elaborate on why. 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.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of a different lethal injection drug expires.

Under Arkansas protocol, midazolam is used to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide then stops the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart. A drug supply company says Arkansas obtained the drug under false pretenses.

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.

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.

Arkansas originally scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period. A ninth death-row inmate who does not have a scheduled execution date also signed on to the request.

In court papers filed Thursday, they say any new judges assigned to their cases in a state court at Little Rock should have time to become familiar with their pleadings.

Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law.

Lawyers for the state of Arkansas are trying to light a fire under a judge who has been slow to file written paperwork involving a death penalty case. That issue is headed back to the court, with the state planning to appeal an identical restraining order from another judge regarding the state's supply of the drug.

The legal challenge is one of several filed by the inmates.

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections.

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