Arkansas judge: Order guided by law, not execution views

Alvin Kelly
April 20, 2017

McKesson said the Arkansas Department of Corrections "purchased the products on an account that was opened under the valid medical license of an Arkansas physician, implicitly representing that the products would only be used for a legitimate medical goal".

At this point, yes, in five of the executions: for Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, scheduled to die Thursday night; for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, set for lethal injection April 24; and for Kenneth Williams, scheduled for execution April 27.

"There are five scheduled executions remaining with nothing preventing them from occurring, but I will continue to respond to any and all legal challenges brought by the prisoners", Rutledge said. Anti-death penalty supporters Abraham Bonowitz, left, and Randy Gardner wait near their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark.

The Latest on executions scheduled to take place in Arkansas before the end of April (all times local): 11:50 p.m.

Governor Asa Hutchinson set the unprecedented schedule due to one of the drugs in the state's lethal injection mix expiring at the end of the month.

Stacey Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn't kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas apartment. Lee claims tests of blood and hair evidence that could prove he didn't beat 26-year-old Debra Reese to death during a 1993 robbery in Jacksonville. An appeal is possible.

Lawyers are known to make multiple arguments to save their clients' lives in the final hours before execution.

But the state is pressing ahead with its efforts to put the men to death in back-to-back lethal injections Thursday night at its Cummins Unit in the town of Grady, about 75 miles southeast of Little Rock. "Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country".

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Arkansas has faced a barrage of legal challenges, which have so far resulted in three of the executions being halted and criticism that it was acting recklessly.

The executions of Davis and Bruce Ward were supposed to be the first two of those executions Monday, but Ward received a stay and the state did not appeal the decision.

"It is certainly not a done deal that he will be executed on Thursday", Arkansas Circuit Judge Tom Cooper, who was the prosecuting attorney in Johnson's second trial, said before the state Supreme Court's decision.

According to a Democrat-Gazette reporter who was part of the group set to witness the execution, some time after 11 p.m. three media witnesses were allowed to leave the media center and travelled by vehicle to the Cummins unit, stopping behind a van of witnesses outside the death chamber. It's the quickest timetable in Arkansas since 1926, though state officials say waiting more than two decades to put some of the killers to death could hardly be characterized as swift. But shortly before midnight, officials said the full court had declined a request by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to vacate the stay.

Brian Cheshir, the Ninth Judicial District prosecuting attorney, says mounds of paperwork and appeals in this case, including new DNA testing, have kept his office busy. A favorable Supreme Court ruling would likely cancel these men's death sentence for the foreseeable future because the state would not have any more of the drug that could be used after April 30.

Last week, a federal judge in Little Rock blocked the executions, citing concerns with the sedative midazolam that has been used in problematic executions in other states.

Lee also wants his federal case reopened, with his attorneys arguing that Lee has fetal alcohol syndrome, brain damage and intellectual disability. (For a graphic on the number and method of USA executions, see: Capital punishment in several states has been stymied by opposition of some global drug companies to the use of their products for executions and difficulties in finding effective replacements. Two pharmaceutical companies filed a court brief last week asking Baker to block Arkansas from using their drugs, but Baker did not rule on that issue.

A judge in Pulaski County on Tuesday rejected the request for DNA testing from inmate Ledell Lee.

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