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20 April 2017, 03:58 | Laverne Osborne
State still plans double execution despite Supreme Court setback
But death penalty appeals nearly always are referred to the entire court.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressed frustration with the repeated legal hurdles, and in a statement Wednesday night criticized the state Supreme Court, which has voted 4-3 on the death penalty cases. A third man has received a stay from a federal judge over issues with his clemency schedule.
A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the state is reviewing its options regarding Johnson's case. They also asked for the Supreme Court to issue an emergency stay if no decision is made by 7 p.m. Thursday, when the next execution is scheduled. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million past year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts. In an amicus brief they filed with the district court, the companies wrote that using their medicines in executions "runs counter to the manufacturers' mission to save and enhance patients' lives". Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is the nephew of the governor.
At this point, yes, in five of the executions: for Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, scheduled to die Thursday night; for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, set for lethal injection April 24; and for Kenneth Williams, scheduled for execution April 27.
An hour before Scott's show aired, correspondent Casey Stegall noted on Fox's America's Newsroom that "states have had a hard time getting new supplies of this drug [midazolam] because many critics say it should not be used to kill people". Polling has shown strong support for the death penalty in Arkansas. McGuire's execution lasted 25 minutes, the longest in Ohio's history, and witnesses said he "gasped several times throughout" before dying. Since 2011, many European drug companies, in an alignment with the European Union's objection to death penalty, have made a decision to cease shipment of their drugs to USA prisons that carry out executions via lethal injections. But Arkansas has faced a wave of legal challenges, and the latest ruling from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray over the drug vecuronium bromide upends the entire schedule. The other inmate scheduled for Thursday, Ledell Lee, argued unsuccessfully Tuesday in a Little Rock courtroom that he be given a chance to test blood and hair evidence that could prove he didn't beat 26-year-old Debra Reese to death during a 1993 robbery in Jacksonville.
The Supreme Court has the final say on nearly every execution, and the justices reject all but a few emergency appeals by inmates.
Attorneys had requested the stay while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case concerning inmates' access to independent mental health experts. The state and its lawyers say the inmates are seeking any legal approach they can find to avoid death.
"The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law", wrote Justice Shawn Womack, a former Republican legislator whose rival previous year was also targeted by conservative groups. But the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated that order after the judge, Wendell Griffen, was photographed participating in an anti-death penalty protest on the same day he issued his ruling. A federal appeals court had rejected their arguments.
"I just feel like, once again, these families have been re-victimized", said Petty, now a state representative, who said she was stunned by the latest ruling.
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