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Arkansas suffers 2 setbacks to multiple execution plan

20 April 2017

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is "surprised and disappointed" that the state Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution to Stacey Johnson, who was scheduled to be put to death Thursday.

The district court found that the inmates were likely to show that the lethal injection drug protocol "entails a substantial risk of harm".

Pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight inmates, who contend the compressed execution schedule increased the likelihood of a botched execution and that one of the three drugs, midazolam, has been proven ineffective in rendering unconsciousness prior to administration of the two lethal agents.

The justices and their clerks know well in advance when executions are scheduled and where.

Jason McGehee, who was to be put to death on April 27, received a month-long stay two weeks ago because of a parole board's clemency recommendation.

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The request was filed on Tuesday by eight inmates who the Arkansas governor scheduled execution dates for this month. The US Supreme Court is set to hold oral arguments in that case, McWilliams v. Dunn, on April 24.

Also still pending is a lawsuit from the medical supplier McKesson Corp., which says it sold the drug vecuronium bromide to the Arkansas Department of Correction for inmate medical care, not executions.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray has issued a restraining order on the states lethal injection drug blocking the remaining five executions.

The Supreme Court has the final say on nearly every execution, and the justices reject all but a few emergency appeals by inmates. McKesson cited a testimony from Rory Griffin, ADC Deputy Director, in which he said ADC "undertook these actions" knowing that the manufacturer of the drug doesn't permit it to be used in executions. The state can ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider its decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday opted not to vacate a separate stay involving inmate Don Davis. One of the eight executions was stayed after judge listened to the parole board's suggestion of upholding the man's life sentence.

The filing from Rutledge contends McKesson's complaint fails to "state facts upon which relief can be granted" and notes that it "amounts to a stay of executions" because a court order barring the drug's use would prevent the lethal injections from proceeding.

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Two inmates are scheduled for execution Thursday night with three more executions planned for next week. Less often, it's the state that seeks permission to proceed after a lower court has blocked an execution.

Rutledge filed a response to inmate Johnson's request at the 8th Circuit on Wednesday night (April 19).

The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice past year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her.

By the time an execution takes place or is stopped, often after the inmate has been fed his intended final meal, four or more different courts are supposed to have examined the trial record, legal issues, newly discovered evidence, assertions of innocence and claims of constitutional violations.

It's unclear whether the new execution obstacles would have any political fallout for the court.

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Arkansas suffers 2 setbacks to multiple execution plan