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20 April 2017, 07:06 | Laverne Osborne
Arkansas inmates set to die Thursday claim innocence
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas' aggressive effort to conduct its first executions since 2005 stalled for a second time this week when courts blocked lethal injections set for Thursday, prompting Gov. Asa Hutchinson to complain that state judges aren't honoring the decisions jurors made when sentencing the prisoners to death.
Judge Alice Gray ruled in favor of the drug distributor, McKesson Medical-Surgical Incorporated's claim that the state misled the company when the Arkansas Department of Correction purchased the drug, vecuronium bromide.
The company said that it "would not knowingly sell any prescription drug to [Arkansas Department of Correction] for any objective unless the ADC had a current medical license to file".
A death row inmate scheduled to be executed in an Arkansas prison today was granted a stay by the highest court in the U.S. state hours before his lethal injection, his attorneys said.
Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee are shown in these booking photo provided.
Unless a court steps in, Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson are set for execution Thursday night, and state prison officials have already moved them from death row to the nearby prison that houses the death chamber.
Lawyers for Lee are also petitioning for a reprieve from the state's top court, which has yet to issue a ruling.
If Gray's ruling is vacated by the Arkansas Supreme Court or the state obtains a different supply of vecuronium bromide, the executions of four other inmates who have not received individual stays could potentially go forward.
Lee and Johnson are the only two inmates among the group of eight to consistently maintain their innocence.
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.
Griffen's order was dissolved on Monday by the Arkansas Supreme Court on the basis of McKesson's decision to withdraw the lawsuit.
"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 inmates set to be executed Thursday are relying primarily on claims the men are innocent.
The medical supplier McKesson Corp. made a similar request in a separate case before a Pulaski County circuit judge, which he granted. There are no current stays blocking those executions, but both inmates have pending court challenges. It's the quickest timetable in Arkansas since 1926, though state officials say waiting more than two decades to put some of the killers to death could hardly be characterized as swift. The state originally wanted to put to death eight men in 11 days but that is down to five after the two won stays Monday and a third was earlier put on hold by a federal judge.
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