Published: Thu, April 20, 2017
U.S. | By Monique Johnson

Courts stop Arkansas' bid to kill eight in 11 days

The justices and their clerks know well in advance when executions are scheduled and where. In this Monday evening, April 17, 2017 photo, the sun sets behind clouds over an Arkansas State Police command post outside the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction. 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. 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 cor".

Regarding Johnson's stay of execution, it's not clear whether Rutledge will file an appeal.

"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", Hutchinson said. The medical supply company says it sold vecuronium bromide to be used for inmate care. The drug is one of three used in Arkansas' lethal injection protocol. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken". But death penalty appeals nearly always are referred to the entire court.

Johnson has claimed that advanced DNA testing will prove he did not commit the murder of a 25-year-old mother of two in 1993. All executions are now stayed while the state appeals.

Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee are shown in these booking photo provided March 21, 2017.

The state originally set eight executions over an 11-day period in April, which would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Another ruling Wednesday could scuttle the entire schedule.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled the eight executions to take place before the state's supply of midazolam expires April 30. Three of those inmates have since received stays.

According to court documents, the ADC acquired the drug under false pretense, telling McKesson that it would strictly be used for medical purposes.

In the vecuronium bromide case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug a year ago in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages.

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.

Griffin told the judge that he explicitly told Jenkins about the intended objective of the drug. In text messages from Jenkins' phone, there is no mention that the drug would be used in executions.

State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said through her spokesman Judd Deere that she would appeal the restraining order to the state Supreme Court.

The second round of executions planned for this week are now on hold as legal challenges play out in courts in Arkansas and Washington D.C.

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.

Griffen's order was dissolved on Monday by the Arkansas Supreme Court on the basis of McKesson's decision to withdraw the lawsuit.

Two executions are set for Thursday, followed by another double execution Monday and a single execution April 27.

Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first executions in almost 12 years has been thwarted by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

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.

Gray's ruling mirrors one last week from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who also blocked Arkansas from using the vecuronium bromide. There are no current stays blocking those executions, but both inmates have pending court challenges. Less often, it's the state that seeks permission to proceed after a lower court has blocked an execution.

McKesson states that the Arkansas Department of Correction reneged on a promise to return the drugs even after McKesson repaid the state's money. The state concedes the pair will not be put to death this month.

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