Arkansas courts block resumption of executions

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson R-Benton speaks at a legislative subcommittee meeting at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock Ark. Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years wasn'

Clock Stopped for Execution of 2 Arkansas Men Due to Legal Challenges

Anti-death penalty supporters Abraham Bonowitz, left, and Randy Gardner wait near their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark.

KTVH reports that anti-death penalty protesters have camped out in front of the governor's mansion in Little Rock in the weeks leading to the decision.

Arkansas officials have defended the schedule because they have no guarantee of obtaining new lethal-injection drugs amid an ongoing shortage, and they have to carry out the death sentences of eight men convicted of capital murder.

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 state says the executions need to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug, midazolam, expires on April 30.

The state filed an amended plan Monday that grants attorneys for the inmates more phone access while on prison grounds.

The court had indicated earlier this year that it might view the death penalty more favorably, ruling to allow Arkansas to keep many details of its lethal injection drugs secret. The ruling clears the way for Arkansas to execute Ledell Lee on Thursday night, although he still has pending requests for reprieve.

Moments before Gray's ruling, the Arkansas supreme court halted the execution of one of two inmates scheduled to die on Thursday, saying that the condemned prisoner should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.

And late on Monday, after inmate Don Davis ate what was supposed to be his "last meal" and just minutes before his execution, the US Supreme Court gave a last-minute ruling sparing him. But Arkansas has faced a wave of legal challenges.

Asa Hutchinson says he is "surprised and disappointed" that the state Supreme Court has granted the stay of execution to Johnson.

The state originally set four double executions over an 11-day period in April.

A deputy director of the Arkansas prison system says he deliberately ordered an execution drug in a way so there wouldn't be a paper trail.

In the drug case, a state prison official testified that he deliberately ordered the drug past year in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages. McKesson Corp. says the state obtained the drug under false pretenses and that it wants nothing to do with executions. Griffin said he did tell Jenkins. A supplier has said it sold the drug to Arkansas to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

The execution of eight death row inmates would be the most by any US state in such a short period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The state's response detailed the killings that sent the men to death row and argued that justice has been denied to the victims' loved ones.

The state of Arkansas is asking the U.S. Supreme Court not to block a series of executions scheduled this month beginning Thursday.

The court hasn't explained its reasoning in any of its one-page stay-of-execution orders for the three inmates. Judge Gray's order prevents mixing of the drug and its use in tonight's executions that have themselves been placed on hold by other court rulings. Four of the eight have been granted stays of execution.

While both of Wednesday's rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when another of its drugs expires.

It's unclear whether the new execution obstacles would have any political fallout for the court.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed responses with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit regarding inmates Lee and Johnson's requests to stay their respective executions. The remaining six could still theoretically be put to death this month, though two of those inmates have received stays that the state hasn't yet appealed.

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

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