Arkansas executions plan stalled again by court rulings

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Regarding Johnson's stay of execution, it's not clear whether Rutledge will file an appeal. However, two court orders issued Wednesday could derail the state's plans.

The state originally set eight executions to occur over an 11-day period in April, 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. But Arkansas has faced a wave of legal challenges. Once the written order was filed, the state asked for an emergency stay of that order. The state's elected prosecutors also criticized the roadblocks to the execution plans.

For the second time in a week, Arkansas has been blocked from using one of its execution drugs until questions about how it obtained a supply of muscle relaxant can be resolved at a trial still to be scheduled.

Johnson and Ledell Lee, the other prisoner who was scheduled to be executed tonight, both say they are innocent.

Maya Foa, an expert at the worldwide rights group Reprieve, said: "Today McKesson has shown that the healthcare industry will do what it takes to prevent the grave misuse of medicines in executions".

After quick briefing from both sides, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of the injunction - meaning the stay can use the execution drugs - while the appeal is heard. In text messages from Jenkins' phone, there is no mention that the drug would be used in executions.

The state had earlier planned to execute eight inmates over 10 days starting April 17, before Arkansas' supply of the drug runs out at the end of the month.

The Arkansas Supreme Court is allowing the state to use a lethal injection drug in upcoming executions, despite a supplier's complaint that it was sold to the state to be used only for inmates' medical care.

The court also barred an anti-death penalty circuit judge from participation in cases or laws involving capital punishment, and lifted his order blocking the state from using a lethal injection drug in the planned executions.

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The ruling delivered a further setback for the state, which last carried out an execution a dozen years ago and contends it must act quickly because its supply of another of the three drugs used in the lethal mix expires at the end of April.

McKesson, a massive drug distributor, said the state had obtained the lethal drugs improperly. Its lawyers filed paperwork with the state Supreme Court on Thursday morning asking it to order her to submit a formal order.

The first two inmates scheduled for execution on Monday were spared — one of them by the U.S. Supreme Court minutes before his death warrant expired — and one of the two rulings on Wednesday could scuttle the entire schedule.

Arkansas' death penalty push comes after the number of US executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016.

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 is on death row for the murder of Carol Heath, a mother of two, who was beaten, strangled, and had her throat slit while her children were at home. Those appeals are pending at the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the US Supreme Court.

"The spokesman, Solomon Graves, said the two are being held in separate cells adjacent to the execution chamber, which is a short drive down the road from the Varner Unit, another prison that houses death-row inmates".

Johnson, 47, was one of two inmates to be put to death Thursday in what the state hoped would be its first execution since 2005. "Lee and identify the real perpetrator of the crime", said Nina Morrison, one of Lee's attorneys with the Innocence Project.

Justices on Thursday rejected a stay request from Ledell Lee.