Arkansas Supreme Court issues stay for death row inmate

FILE- In this Aug. 18 2015 file

In another setback for the state, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday granted a stay of execution for Stacey Johnson, one of the inmates scheduled to die Thursday, drawing a rebuke from death penalty supporter Hutchinson.

A state circuit judge issued the temporary restraining order on Wednesday after the US pharmaceutical firm McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide under false pretences.

By the time an execution takes place or is stopped, often after the inmate has been fed his intended final meal, four or more different courts are supposed to have examined the trial record, legal issues, newly discovered evidence, assertions of innocence and claims of constitutional violations. It was used in a "botched" Oklahoma execution in 2014, when a conscious inmate faced 40 minutes of paralysis and agonizing pain before suffering a heart attack. A supplier has said it sold the drug to Arkansas to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

McKesson attorney John Tull told the judge that the prisons department had "duped" the Virginia-based company, which has been supplying pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to the agency for more than 20 years, into providing the drugs.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen wrote in a blog post that he was portraying Jesus when he lay on a cot for an hour and a half outside the governor's mansion after he issued the order last week barring Arkansas from using one of its execution drugs.

The state of Arkansas may go 0-for-8 in an ambitious plan to execute eight inmates this month after suffering two more legal blows on Wednesday.

While the latest court rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires.

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Arkansas inmates set for a series of executions before the end of the month have filed a new request for stays. Answers to death penalty queries.

"While this ruling once against brings temporary relief, Arkansas continues to show no regard for human rights by rushing prisoners to their deaths", said Amnesty International's James Clark in a statement.

"I have ultimate respect for the court and I'm not going to question individual decisions but I would say there is frustration among the Legislature as to the court's continued refusal to allow an execution to go through", said Sen.

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 March 21, 2017. The first two executions were canceled because of court decisions.

In the vecuronium bromide case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug previous year in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages. Unless a court steps in, Lee and Stacey Johnson are set for execution Thursday night. In text messages from Jenkins' phone, which came up at a court hearing Wednesday, there is no mention that the drug would be used in executions.

Arkansas has been trying to execute eight men before its supply of another drug, midazolam, expires.

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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