Arkansas Judge: Order Guided By Law, Not Execution Views


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Two Arkansas inmates set to die this week in a double execution filed more legal challenges Wednesday, but so far the pair is hitting roadblocks as a judge weighs a new attempt to prevent the state from using one of its lethal injection drugs in what would be the state's first executions in almost a dozen years.

Arkansas remains hopeful it can execute five inmates before the end of the month after courts blocked the state from putting two men to death Monday night. The state set such a compressed schedule because its supply of one of the lethal injection drugs expires at the end of April. Two pharmaceutical companies filed a court brief last week asking Baker to block Arkansas from using their drugs, but Baker did not rule on that issue.

Are there any other legal challenges that might result in delays?

At this point, yes, in five of the executions: for Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, scheduled to die Thursday night; for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, set for lethal injection April 24; and for Kenneth Williams, scheduled for execution April 27. The manufacturer of this drug, McKesson Corporation, also claimed that the state bought it under false pretenses, by using the medical license of an Arkansas physician.

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. As I wrote in my May 7, 2014 column, "Our (lethal injection) drug problem", America's supply of deadly Pentothal used in lethal injections was cut off in early 2011 after manufacturer Hospira discontinued production over moral objections. Strict distribution controls imposed by dozen of drug companies in the U.S. and Europe have made it hard for USA states practicing the death penalty to acquire the chemicals to use in lethal injections. The drug, which paralyzes the prisoner, is the second step in the state's three-drug cocktail for the procedure. He said he didn't keep records of the texts, but a McKesson representative did.

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"We've established that modern DNA testing methods can prove Mr. Johnson's innocence, and Arkansas law clearly established that Mr. Johnson is entitled to that testing", said Karen Thompson, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, on Tuesday after the appeal was filed. "Here, as a result of decades of strategic litigation, justice has always been denied to (the inmates') victims and their loved ones". This photo provided by Sherry Simon shows Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part of an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion Friday, April 14, 2017 in Little Rock, Ark. So, even though it hasn't carried out one since 2005, the state hastily planned eight executions - until U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker stepped in.

Arkansas' schedule of executions was unprecedented in recent history, the Death Penalty Information Center noted. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law".

But on Tuesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright rejected that request, noting that Lee's conviction has been reviewed multiple times. They instead will rely again on whether the sedative midazolam could present a risk of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Then after Ward was granted a stay, seven executions were to go forward.

Their strategy to win stays of execution is in marked contrast to the first two inmates who faced the death chamber in Arkansas and were spared Monday by arguing they should not be put to death because of mental health issues. That's true whether it's the inmate who is seeking an eleventh-hour reprieve or the state that wants to put a prisoner to death.

Arkansas officials are vowing to press ahead despite the setback to plans to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus. A third inmate's execution has been postponed by a federal judge, because a state parole board said it would recommend changing his sentence to life in prison without parole.