Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
Culture | By Julio Duncan

Arkansas officials ask courts to clear path for executions

Arkansas officials ask courts to clear path for executions

Lawyers for the state were asking courts to clear a path for a double execution scheduled for Thursday night.

Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback to the state's plan to resume capital punishment for the first time in almost 12 years by refusing to lift an order sparing an inmate just minutes before his death warrant expired.

A series of rulings by state and federal judges have cast doubt on whether any of the executions will go forward.

"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. West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes midazolam, and Fresenius Kabi USA, manufacturer of potassium chloride, another drug used in executions, have also expressed opposition to the use of their drugs for lethal injection. None of the campaign material mentioned the death penalty. Both won. But one of those justices voted to block the executions. Goodson had touted her commitment to conservative values, while Kemp said in a campaign ad he would be guided by "prayer, not politics".

The other two justices who favored stopping the executions were Robin Wynne, who was touted as tough on child predators when he was elected in 2014, and Josephine Linker Hart, who ran as a "no-nonsense judge" in 2012. In fact, one of the orders blocking the executions was issued for that exact reason.

"When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases, but I expected the courts to allow the juries' sentences to be carried out since each case had been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each", Hutchinson said in a statement.

It was unclear if Attorney General Leslie 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.

Arkansas contends it must act quickly because one of the drugs in its lethal injection mix, the valium-like sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April.

On Friday, a different Pulaski County judge issued a similar ruling on vecuronium bromide.

"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.

Davis had already been served a last meal of fried chicken, rolls, beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake, and witnesses were being moved toward the execution chamber when the Supreme Court ruled just minutes before his death warrant expired at midnight.

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".

The situation is a familiar one for Rebecca Petty, whose daughter's killer was granted a reprieve by federal courts hours before his execution in 2004.

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