Arkansas execution delayed as Supreme Court refuses to overrule state court

Alvin Kelly
April 21, 2017

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.

Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details. That would be the most in the United States in as short a period since the death penalty's reinstatement in 1976.

(AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel). The second execution set for that night was canceled.

The medical supplier McKesson Corp. made a similar request in a separate case before a Pulaski County circuit judge, which he granted. Wright wrote that he won't substitute his own judgment "for that of the jurors two decades removed".

"That's something we had sought from the state and federal courts and had been denied, and we're making another run at it and showing that there are new techniques that came into effect literally this year that can provide results that can bear on the case", Rosenzweig said.

The attorney general and governor are vowing to pursue a series of executions scheduled over the next two weeks even after the state's Supreme Court halted the first two lethal injections hours before they were to take place.

"Allowing (Davis') stay to stand will effectively prevent Arkansas from seeing justice done", Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Johnson was convicted in the 1993 killing of Carol Heath.

With about 10 minutes to go before Davis' death warrant was due to expire, the high court made a decision to uphold a stay of execution.

Johnson's attorneys want advanced DNA testing on hairs found at the apartment where Heath's body was found and on clothing found at a rest stop.

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"It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed", Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. The state Supreme Court also lifted a lower court ruling preventing the state from using another lethal injection drug that a supplier said was sold to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson had set an aggressive schedule of as many as eight executions by the end of April, when the state's supply of a key lethal injection drug expires.

It is also appealing against Mr Griffen's order that the prison system cannot use a paralysing drug until he could determine whether the state obtained it properly. If court proceedings are pushed into May, it will not be able to carry out the executions with the drugs it has on hand. He said the state has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the state high court with "a decision later tonight".

In a dizzying legal drama over the controversial executions, a federal appeals court later on Monday gave its approval of the state's plans.

Davis and Bruce Ward were originally set to be executed Monday night and had been granted stays by the state Supreme Court earlier that day. The issue in that case is about one of the drugs scheduled to be used in the lethal injections.

Ledell Lee was moved from prison Tuesday morning and was expected at a 1:30 p.m. hearing in Little Rock. Two inmates are set to be put to death on Thursday.

The 51-year-old Lee was sentenced to die for the 1993 killing of his neighbor Debra Reese, who was struck 36 times with a baseball bat-like tool.

But that is not the only legal obstacle the state faces.

Don Davis had been given his last meal Monday evening, with the U.S. high court decision to leave a state court's stay of execution in place coming as the minutes ticked toward 1 a.m. ET (midnight Central Time) when the execution warrant was to expire.

The inmates are fighting their executions on multiple legal fronts, but there are now no stays in place for five who are set to die this month as the state rushes to beat an expiration date for one of its lethal drugs.

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