The highest courts in Arkansas and the US could put the executions back on track, but for now Arkansas faces an uphill battle to put any inmate to death before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires.
The legal maneuvers frustrated Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had set the execution schedule less than two months ago.
On Wednesday, a state circuit judge blocked the use of another of the drugs Arkansas acquired for lethal injections, after US pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide under false pretences.
Arkansas, which has not conducted an execution in 12 years, at one point had planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days, the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Lee is fighting in federal and state courts for a similar stay. In fact, the court ordered Griffin removed from all death penalty cases after photos emerged of him participating in a rally against the executions.
Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before the end of April, when its supply of one lethal injection drug expires.
Already, Arkansas appears to have given up on three of the planned eight executions.
The state Supreme Court granted inmate Stacey Johnson a stay Wednesday night, ruling 4-3 that he has a right to an evidentiary hearing after he requested DNA testing to prove his innocence. A third execution, originally scheduled for next week, was previously halted by a federal judge after a parole board said it would recommend changing that inmate's sentence to life in prison.
A handful of drug companies are telling Arkansas that they don't want their products used to kill inmates. The state says the executions need to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug, midazolam, expires on April 30.
Fresenius Kabi USA and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals Corp. asked Thursday to file a friend of the court brief urging the court to uphold an order preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the lethal injection process. Attorneys for the inmate filed a request Wednesday for a stay with the state's highest court.
According to McKesson, the Arkansas Department of Corrections deceived the company to purchase the drug, promised to return it and was given a refund - only to reverse course, refuse to hand over the drug and keep the refund.
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Under Arkansas protocol, midazolam is used to sedate the inmate, vecuronium bromide then stops the inmate's breathing and potassium chloride stops the heart.
The judge filed her order Thursday after the state complained to the Arkansas Supreme Court that she was taking too much time. Anti-death penalty supporter Randy Gardner, left, wipes away a tear moments after Abraham Bonowitz, left, read on his phone the 11:45pm Supreme Court decision to halt the execution.
In text messages from Jenkins' phone, which came up at Wednesday's court hearing, there is no mention that the drug would be used in executions.
The court offered no explanation for the order, saying only that Johnson should be allowed to press on with his motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Johnson, a black man, was sentenced for the 1993 murder of a white woman. Four of the eight have been granted stays of execution.
Nina Morrison, a lawyer with the Innocence Project, said the group is "grateful and relieved" with the decision to stay the execution.
As of now both Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee will remain in holding cells next to the death chamber in Cummins Unit. "Lee and identify the real perpetrator of the crime".
A death row inmate scheduled to be executed in an Arkansas prison today was granted a stay by the highest court in the USA state hours before his lethal injection, his attorneys said.
But while Goodson voted to stay the three executions, so did the conservative-backed candidate who beat her in the chief justice race, Dan Kemp.
"Today, our court gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court", Justice Rhonda Wood wrote in a dissenting opinion.
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Another daughter, Debbie Godwin, said that's what made her father so special. "I wouldn't wish that on anybody". According to WKYC's Chris Tye, the manager called Pennsylvania State Police and that Stephens was there.
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