Arkansas inmates set to die Thursday claim innocence
21 April, 2017, 18:19
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. They said the odds were increased by Governor Asa Hutchinson's original plan to execute all eight of them over the course of 11 days. 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.
In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a stay for Stacey Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make his claims.
Justices also denied an attempt by makers of midazolam and potassium chloride - the two other drugs in Arkansas' execution plan - to intervene in McKesson's fight over the vecuronium bromide.
While both of Wednesday's rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when another of its drugs expires.
Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case. Lee was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing Debra Reese with a tire iron in February 1993 in Jacksonville. Lee is fighting in federal and state courts for a similar stay. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.
His execution was Arkansas' first since 2005. In addition, a group of Arkansas death-row inmates has filed another emergency stay request with the USA supreme court, this time challenging the state's plan for a flurry of executions before the end of April, when Arkansas' supply of an execution drug expires.
Lee showed no signs of consciousness two minutes after the start of his execution, which began at 11:44 p.m. Only one of the seven justices is up for election next year, and judicial rules prevent candidates from announcing their bids until next month.
Just before Lee was put to death, prison officials at the Cummins Unit asked him twice for his final words, but he did not respond.
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. The first two executions were canceled because of court decisions, and legal rulings have put the other six in doubt. None of the campaign material mentioned the death penalty.
That leaves five men set for execution in an eight-day period starting Thursday. Goodson had touted her commitment to conservative values, while Kemp said in a campaign ad he would be guided by "prayer, not politics".
The judge filed her order Thursday after the state complained to the Arkansas Supreme Court that she was taking too much time.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray blocked the state from using the drug vecuronium bromide, siding with McKesson Corp., which had argued that it sold Arkansas the drug for medical use, not executions. A court official informally known as the death clerk keeps everyone up to date and communicates often with lawyers for inmates and the states as the date of execution nears.
Regarding Johnson's stay of execution, it's not clear whether Rutledge will file an appeal.
"The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law", wrote Justice Shawn Womack, a former Republican legislator whose rival past year was also targeted by conservative groups.
Anti-death penalty supporter Randy Gardner, left, wipes away a tear moments after Abraham Bonowitz, left, read on his phone the 11:45pm Supreme Court decision to halt the execution in their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark.