Arkansas Supreme Court lifts judge’s stay, allowing state to use execution drug

Death Penalty

Arkanasas Supreme Court


Updated: On Thursday night, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals that would have halted the execution of Ledell Lee, the Associated Press reported.

The justices voted 5-4 to reject the appeals, and new Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch voted with the majority, according to AP. More appeals are expected, however.

The on-again off-again attempts by Arkansas to execute multiple death row inmates were off Wednesday evening after two court actions halted a plan to carry out two of the death sentences Thursday, NBC News reports.

In a sweeping decision Wednesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray put the execution of Ledell Lee on hold, ruling that the prison cannot use its supply of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic that is part of the three-drug mixture used by the state for lethal injections. McKesson Corp. argued that the prison system had deceived the company by saying the drug was to be used for medicinal reasons.

“Irreparable harm will result,” Judge Gray said, in ruling from the bench. “Harm that could not be addressed by [monetary] damages.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed Gray’s decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which lifted Gray’s order Thursday afternoon, the Associated Press reported.

In the other case Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay on the execution of Stacey Johnson, whose lawyers asked for more time to have new DNA testing done and presented as evidence in the case, claiming it will prove his innocence. The court ruled 4-3 to stay Johnson’s execution and remand the case to the trial court for a hearing on new DNA evidence, without explanation, although two justices in the minority released opinions that criticized the majority.

“With no explanation or instruction, this matter has been remanded to the trial court for another hearing,” wrote Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood. “Today, our court gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court.”

The hurried execution schedule—Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed eight death warrants to be carried out before the end of April—would have been the most of any state since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

“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,” the governor said in a released statement, adding that she will “continue to work with the attorney general as we evaluate our next steps.”

Updated at 5:02 p.m. to report Arkansas Supreme Court ruling. Updated at 8:56 p.m. to note U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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