Arkansas execution plan again thrown into doubt

FILE- In this Aug. 18 2015 file

FILE- In this Aug. 18 2015 file

The Arkansas Supreme Court late on Wednesday stayed the execution of Stacey Johnson, one of two inmates due to die on Thursday, and returned his case to the trial court for reconsideration of potential DNA evidence, handing the state another obstacle as it tried to execute eight prisoners in 10 days.

Makers of midazolam and potassium chloride - the two other drugs in Arkansas' execution plan - asked to file briefs with the state Supreme Court on Thursday.

A paralytic that affects the respiratory system, it has recognized medical applications, but in executions, it is used to stop the condemned inmate's breathing.

"In its efforts to "enforce the law" Arkansas has ridden roughshod over private companies' legal agreements and the interests of Arkansas patients, and today's ruling shows this will not pass unchallenged".

Arkansas officials have said the executions must be conducted before the state's supply of another drug, midazolam, expires on May 1. But the ADC has failed to do, according to the drug supplier.

The state Supreme Court on Monday lifted Griffen's order and prohibited the judge from considering any death penalty-related cases.

The highest courts in Arkansas and the USA could put the executions back on track, but for now Arkansas faces an uphill battle to put any inmate to death before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires. This came after Johnson claimed additional DNA testing in his case could prove he was innocent.

"When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases, but I expected the courts to allow the juries' sentences to be carried out since each case had been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each", Hutchinson said. But death penalty appeals nearly always are referred to the entire court.

The state attorney general's office has been tenacious, but so far unsuccessful, in its work to overturn the numerous legal challenges to the executions.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was "surprised and disappointed" by Wednesday's state Supreme Court stay of Johnson's execution. The first two executions were canceled because of court decisions.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the state supreme court ruling was "without legal explanation" and that she was evaluating her options.

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

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.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of a different lethal injection drug expires.

Also still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight prisoners contending that the compressed execution schedule increases the likelihood of a botched lethal injection.

Jenkins testified that Griffin never told him what the drug would be used for and that his personal beliefs would have prevented him from selling a drug he knew was going to be used for executions.

Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in almost 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

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