Arkansas executions temporarily on hold

9 Death Row Inmates Turn to SCOTUS Request Emergency Stays of Execution

9 Death Row Inmates Turn to SCOTUS Request Emergency Stays of Execution

Arkansas plans to execute Lee and another inmate, Stacey Johnson, on Thursday night.

Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with Ledell Lee.

An eighth inmate, Jason McGehee, previously won a stay from a federal judge regarding his clemency schedule, and Arkansas has not appealed that ruling. The first three executions were canceled because of court decisions. The Innocence Project filed the appeal along with Johnson's attorney. The Washington Post reports that he was "surprised and disappointed" by the decisions made by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Legal rulings have put some of the others in doubt.

The legal issue that halted Monday's executions for Ward and Davis hinged on a separate, broader case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning a defendant's access to independent experts, and attorneys say the justices' ruling could potentially affect the inmates' criminal convictions. His execution was halted after his attorneys sought additional DNA tests they say could exonerate him. Another state judge granted such an order last week, but he was quickly criticized by Rutledge and others for attending a death-penalty protest the same day and was removed from the case by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which vacated his order. Arkansas had planned to execute Johnson and Ledell Lee Thursday night.

Also on Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an order staying a fourth execution scheduled to occur a little more than 24 hours later. McKesson cited a testimony from Rory Griffin, ADC Deputy Director, in which he said ADC "undertook these actions" knowing that the manufacturer of the drug doesn't permit it to be used in executions. McKesson Corp., a medical supply company, said the state misleadingly bought the drug and that it wasn't intended for executions.

Arkansas' attempt to carry out a spate of executions before the end of the month has run into two fresh legal obstacles.

The justices often split on death penalty issues, with the conservative justices more willing to allow an execution to take place and the liberal justices more inclined to side with inmates. It's the quickest timetable in Arkansas since 1926, though state officials say waiting more than two decades to put some of the killers to death could hardly be characterized as swift.

It regards Wednesday's bench order by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Alice Gray. A supplier has said it sold the drug to Arkansas to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

That leaves five men set for execution in an eight-day period starting Thursday.

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.

The typical dose is up to.1 mg/kg intravenously, or 8.5 mg for the typical inmate set to die this month. The pharmaceutical companies 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. Both men are scheduled for execution on April 20, 2017.

The court, in a narrow 4-to-3 decision, blocked the execution of Stacey Johnson, 47, who has been on death row since 1994.

Arkansas officials say they can not obtain the drug from another source.

The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice a year ago after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her. A ninth death-row inmate who does not have a scheduled execution date also signed on to the request. The minority opinion was clear in its dissent, but I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review.

Arkansas' death penalty protocol includes two drugs that are typically used in surgery and one that benefits cardiac patients. Attorneys for the inmate filed a request Wednesday for a stay with the state's highest court.

Another ruling Wednesday could scuttle the entire schedule. There are no current stays blocking those executions, but both inmates have pending court challenges.