How a series of court rulings may derail Arkansas’ original plan to execute 8 men


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 this booking photo provided March 21, 2017. Two were scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Arkansas on April 17. Photo courtesy Arkansas Department of Corrections/Handout via Reuters

A week ago, Arkansas planned to execute seven men in 11 days. Now, the state may not put anyone to death before May 1, when its supply of lethal injection drugs expires.

Late Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court blocked the execution of Stacey Johnson, which was scheduled for Thursday night. That halves the original number of eight men that Gov. Asa Hutchinson planned to put to death: two per day on April 17, April 20, April 24 and April 27.

The decision came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Arkansas’ request to execute Don Davis, who has waited on death row for nearly three decades for the 1990 murder of Jane Daniel. Davis was scheduled to die the day after Easter Sunday; and prison personnel served him his final meal before hearing the high court’s decision. Before that, Bruce Ward and Jason McGehee both received delays in their execution.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Alice Gray also verbally granted a temporary restraining order Wednesday on the state’s use of lethal injection drug, vecuronium bromide. This order blocked the execution of Ledell Lee, also originally set for Thursday, along with the seven other men who were originally scheduled to die before the state’s supply was set to expire at the end of the month. (It also applies to one other man on death row who has not been scheduled for execution.) The company McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., sold these drugs to Arkansas Department of Correction and has argued in court the state misrepresented how it intended to use the drug.

Normally, doctors use the drug as a general anesthesia to relax muscles before surgery.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has fought these decisions and will continue to press for the state to continue with the executions, said her spokesman, Judd Deere. Rutledge is waiting for the Pulaski County judge to write the order she issued Wednesday so Rutledge can appeal it. At this time, Rutledge is unable to appeal an order delivered orally, but she filed a motion for emergency stay with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking for action.

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“A final factor that the Court should consider is the fact that McKesson sold the vecuronium bromide to the ADC in the summer of 2016 and then after the ADC declined to return the drug, McKesson rested on its laurels until filing its first complaint late in the day on Friday, April 14, 2017—with executions scheduled for Monday, April 17, 2017,” her motion said.

Nina Morrison has worked for 15 years as an attorney with the Innocence Project and now represents Ledell Lee. She argued that, for decades, Lee’s prior defense did not demand DNA analysis of evidence linked to his case or proper mental evaluation for Lee.

“What is very unusual is having a rush to execution for someone who has never once had a lawyer consult with a DNA expert or properly analyze DNA issues in the case,” Morrison said.

Morrison said judges are expected to deliver decisions on the various motions in place by a 2 p.m. CT deadline today.

READ MORE: What’s next in the fight over Arkansas executions

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