Arkansas suffered two more legal setbacks Wednesday in its unprecedented plan to carry out multiple executions this month when the state supreme court halted one and a judge later ruled that the state can not use one of its drugs in any executions.
The executions set for Thursday would have been the first in Arkansas in a dozen years, and the eight together would have been the most for any state in as a short a period since the US death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Gray backed a lawsuit by drugs company McKesson, the supplier of the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide that argued that it had been sold to the prison system on the understanding it would be used exclusively for medical purposes, and not for executions.
Why are executions stopped? Wave after wave of legal challenges followed. As state officials prepare to carry out a double execution Thursday ahead of a drug expiration deadline and despite the setback the U.S. Supreme Court delivered late Monday, lawyers for those condemned men look to be taking a different approach: claiming the prisoners are actually innocent.
According to court documents, the ADC acquired the drug under false pretense, telling McKesson that it would strictly be used for medical purposes.
America's largest drug wholesaler has once again succeeded in blocking the use of dishonestly-obtained medicines in Arkansas's planned "mass execution". Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million a year ago on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history.
Governor Asa Hutchinson set the unprecedented schedule due to one of the drugs in the state's lethal injection mix expiring at the end of the month. Johnson's attorneys requested additional DNA testing on evidence that they say could prove his innocence in the 1993 rape and killing of Carol Heath.
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"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.
Lawyers for the state of Arkansas are trying to light a fire under a judge who has been slow to file written paperwork involving a death penalty case.
"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. McKesson withdrew that suit after the executions were stayed by a U.S. federal court, but re-filed its petition yesterday evening after that court's stay was lifted. Johnson was convicted of murder in 1997, and had been scheduled to be executed Thursday. Hutchinson says he wants a clear explanation from the court majority as to how they came to the decision.
Immediately after Gray's decision, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced plans to appeal the ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court today.
The Arkansas attorney general's office is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject execution stays for a group of death row inmates, including five who are set for lethal injection over the next two weeks.
Griffin said he used phone calls and text messages past year to order one of Arkansas' three execution drugs. Lee's execution is now also on hold. Arkansas Department of Correction Deputy Director Rory Griffin said he didn't keep records of the texts, but McKesson salesman Tim Jenkins did. The judge ruled on a lawsuit by USA pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc which accused the state of obtaining the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide under false pretences.