Supreme Court blocks Arkansas executions

Thursday, 20 Apr, 2017

Federal Judge Kristine Baker followed up on April 15 with a preliminary stay of executions.

Both Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, the chair of the USA bishops' domestic justice and human development committee, have spoken out against the planned executions.

(Sherry Simon via AP).

That decision "stirred a wave of consternation and threats on social media from state lawmakers and conservatives", member station KUAR noted on Saturday - because shortly before the decision, the judge was photographed protesting the death penalty at the gates of the Governor's Mansion. People gather at a rally opposing the state's upcoming executions, on the front steps of Arkansas' Capitol, Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

(AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel).

If Arkansas had its way, the state would have two fewer inmates on death row today. Lee, who was convicted of killing his neighbor Debra Reese with a tire iron in 1993, is asking a federal court to allow him to test evidence from his trial that could prove his innocence.

"Both Mr. Ward and Mr. Davis were denied independent mental health experts to help their defense attorneys investigate, understand, and present these critical mental health issues to the jury", Assistant Federal Defender Scott Braden said in a statement.

In a 4-3 decision, Arkansas' highest court stayed the executions of two death-row inmates. Johnson, a black man, was sentenced for the 1993 murder of a white woman. Johnson's attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, wants a court to order new DNA testing on hair found in the victim's apartment and on clothing that prosecutors found at a rest stop and linked to Johnson.

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had no comment on the court filing.

Capital punishment in several states has been stymied by problems with procuring lethal-injection drugs due to sales bans by global drug firms and legal questions over death chamber protocols.

Arkansas' Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, had planned for eight men on death row to be executed within an 11-day period before the end of April, when the state's stock of midazolam, a sedative used in the lethal injections, expires. The supplier said it refunded the state, which never returned the drug.

The lawsuit revives the company's attempts to block the use of the drug in Arkansas' executions. The earlier stay was granted after Ward's lawyers sought an evaluation of whether he is mentally capable of understanding his punishment.

Arkansas appealed the stay on Davis, but did not pursue Ward's case. The executions of Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee are scheduled for April 20, but their attorneys are working to halt those as well. He is one of two inmates scheduled for execution Thursday. He is also serving prison time for the rapes of a woman and teen from Jacksonville.

Who is Arkansas still scheduled to execute?

The U.S. Supreme Court late Monday blocked Arkansas from executing convicted murderer Don Davis, one of at least six inmates the state hoped to put to death before its supply of a key lethal injection drug expires at the end of this month. "There is no way this unprecedented number of executions can be carried out without complications".

In a repeat of its lawsuit against Arkansas, McKesson Medical-Surgical, a unit of McKesson Corp MCK.N , said the state's correction department had acted deceitfully when it purchased another drug, vecuronium bromide, a commonly used muscle relaxant given in extreme doses in executions to paralyze the body and halt breathing.