Court Rulings Block 2 Scheduled Executions Today In Arkansas

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'

Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in almost 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

A judge in Arkansas has blocked the state from using its supply of a drug used in lethal injections, due to the drug supplier objecting that the state misleadingly obtained its product. One of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night.

It takes five votes to get most things done at the court, including imposing or lifting a stay of execution. A third execution, originally scheduled for next week, was previously halted by a federal judge after a parole board said it would recommend changing that inmate's sentence to life in prison. McKesson did not have an immediate comment on the court allowing its drug to be used.

Arkansas plans to execute Lee and another inmate, Stacey Johnson, on Thursday night. The state can ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider its decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday opted not to vacate a separate stay involving inmate Davis.

"Today, our court gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas supreme court", Justice Rhonda Wood wrote in a dissenting opinion.

The three stays, along with one granted earlier, have whittled down the execution list to four, unless the U.S. Supreme Court allows Arkansas to move ahead with Stacey Johnson's Thursday execution.

The company, a unit of McKesson Corp, said it would not have sold the drug to the Arkansas prison system had it known it would be used in executions, and is demanding the drug is either returned or confiscated.

The state high court decision was one of two setbacks Wednesday to Arkansas' bid to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus.

Lawyers for the state were asking courts to clear a path for a double execution scheduled for Thursday night. Arkansas had planned to execute Johnson and Ledell Lee Thursday night.

Pending before the US Supreme Court is an appeal by all eight inmates, who contend the compressed execution schedule increased the likelihood of a botched execution and that one of the three drugs, midazolam, has been proven ineffective in rendering unconsciousness prior to administration of the two lethal agents. Anti-death penalty supporter Randy Gardner, left, wipes away a tear moments after Abraham Bonowitz, left, read on his phone the 11:45pm Supreme Court decision to halt the execution in their t. His execution, as well as Bruce Earl Ward's, never occurred due to stays put in place by the Arkansas Supreme Court. In July 2016, McKesson claimed that ADC "leveraged" its medical license to purchase the vecuronium bromide.

In her order, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker flagged two issues: the use of the midazolam and inmates' access to their attorneys on the days of their executions. A ninth death-row inmate who does not have a scheduled execution date also signed on to the request. Hutchinson pointed to the dissents and said he knows "families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review".

The court noted that the inmates "have a long history of filing and dismissing claims to manipulate the judicial process and prevent Arkansas from carrying out their executions".

The legal challenge is one of several filed by the inmates.

While the latest court rulings could be overturned, Arkansas now faces an uphill battle to execute any inmates before the end of April, when one of its lethal injection drugs expires. Four of the eight have been granted stays of execution.

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