Judge blocks Arkansas from using execution drug

Simon shows Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part of an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock Ark. Griffen who participated in the demo

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on April 15 issued a stay of Arkansas' scheduled executions in a 101-page ruling in a lawsuit challenging the state's lethal-injection protocol. In addition, a group of Arkansas death-row inmates has filed another emergency stay request with the U.S. supreme court, this time challenging the state's plan for a flurry of executions before the end of April, when Arkansas' supply of an execution drug expires.

A group of Arkansas inmates is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block upcoming executions in the state, citing concerns with one of the lethal injection drugs.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas suffered two more setbacks in its unprecedented bid to carry out eight executions this month with the state's highest court granting a reprieve to an inmate scheduled to die Thursday and a county court saying the state can't use one of its lethal injection drugs in any executions.

Johnson was convicted in Arkansas of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Carol Heath.

Inmate Ledell Lee is also set for execution Thursday night but he also has legal challenges pending before several courts, including a similar request for more DNA tests.

"We've established that modern DNA testing methods can prove Mr Johnson's innocence, and Arkansas law clearly established that Mr Johnson is entitled to that testing", said Karen Thompson, a staff attorney with the Innocence Project, which filed the appeal along with Johnson's attorney.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray blocked the state from using the drug vecuronium bromide, siding with McKesson Corp., which had argued that it sold Arkansas the drug for medical use, not executions.

Lee and Johnson are the only two inmates among the group of eight to consistently maintain their innocence. 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.

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"McKesson is committed to ensuring that its property is only used in a manner consistent with our supplier agreement", a company statement said.

The drug, which paralyzes the prisoner, is the second step in the state's three-drug cocktail for the procedure.

After criminal defense attorney Yodit Tewolde explained that "for Arkansas to try to rush executions for the sake of a drug expiring at the end of the month is disrespectful to the intent of justice in this case", Scott ignored her point and flippantly remarked that it "seems odd" to characterize the response to a crime that happened in 1992 as a "rush to judgment".

The company said that ADC placed the order for the drug over the phone and never disclosed that the drug was to be used for executions. The filing says: "As is oft said, justice delayed is justice denied".

Davis had already been served a last meal of fried chicken, rolls, beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake, and witnesses were being moved toward the execution chamber when the Supreme Court ruled just minutes before his death warrant expired at midnight.

The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice past year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her. But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that order Monday, and the inmates appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The legal issue that halted Monday's executions for Ward and Davis hinged on a separate, broader case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning a defendant's access to independent experts, and attorneys say the justices' ruling could potentially affect the inmates' criminal convictions. There are no current stays blocking those executions, but both inmates have pending court challenges. But courts have blocked three of those executions from going forward.

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