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Clock Stopped for Execution of 2 Arkansas Men Due to Legal Challenges

Stacey E. Johnson, left, and Ledell Lee. Arkansas Dept. of Correction via AP

Arkansas’ plans to execute two of seven death row inmates on Thursday got tripped up by courts that put a halt on the state’s rush to end their lives when the expected lethal injections were blocked and that could mean that they will stay alive.

The state set eight executions to take place in a series of eleven days, which would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Wave after wave of legal challenges followed. Although Arkansas planned on putting to death Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson, both convicted of murder, lawyers for those condemned men and the others have argued to the Supreme Court that placing them in a series of executions may be a violation of their Constitutional rights.

“If a death row inmate is processed as part of a series of executions, those other executions are not ‘extraneous’ — they are central to the inmate’s right to be treated with the individualized dignity the Eighth Amendment requires,” according to a court filing reported by ArkansasOnline. Both men have consistently maintained their innocence. Johnson has asked for more DNA testing of evidence that his attorneys believe may exonerate him. An Arkansas Supreme Court judge has granted that stay.

Attorneys for the condemned individuals have asked that justices reverse an Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision that vacated a stay of execution by an Arkansas federal judge.

In another development that has the executions on hold, a circuit court judge in Pulaski County, Ark., ruled from the bench on Wednesday that the use of the vecuronium bromide for executions would cause “irreparable harm” to its supplier, McKesson Corp, which says it makes the drug for medicinal usage and was not aware of what the Arkansas Department of Corrections intended to do with it when it was purchased.

Arkansas has a three-drug protocol for lethal injections, and even without the ruling, the state’s supply of the drug midazolam, which is used as a sedative, would have run out at the end of the month, explaining why officials have been eager to carry out the executions. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has complained that state judges aren’t honoring the decisions jurors made when sentencing the prisoners to death.

“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 in a statement.

So far Lee, Johnson and another inmate Jason McGehee have avoided being executed due to the legal challenges. But five other inmates could still face lethal injection before the end of the month.


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