Despite court orders temporarily preventing it from executing inmates, Arkansas is still prepared to carry out the capital punishment for two convicted inmates Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee tonight in the hopes that it would get last-minute reversal of rulings.
Arkansas is planning to conduct multiple lethal injections before one of the drugs it uses expire at the end of the month. Prisons spokesman Solomoon Graves said that preparations for the lethal injections scheduled Thursday evening at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. local time were on, pending the outcome of appeals at both the state and federal levels.
Arkansas earlier planned to execute eight convicted inmates in 11 days because one of the three drugs used in Arkansas executions, the sedative midazolam, will expire at the end of the month. Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson had set the schedule.
Arkansas has not carried out the capital punishment in 12 years, and its earlier plan of executing eight inmates in a span of less than two weeks is the most of any state in as short a period since the U.S. Supreme Court brought back the death penalty in 1976.
Death penalty experts said that the plan brings an unprecedented array of legal filings, and also raised questions regarding U.S. death chamber protocols and lethal injection drug mixes. A state circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the use of one of the drugs Arkansas has acquired for lethal injections. The judge ruled based on a lawsuit filed by U.S. pharmaceutical wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. which alleged that the state obtained the muscle relaxant vecuronium bromide under false pretenses. The company argued that it would not have sold the drug to the Arkansas prison system had it known from the start that it would be used in executions. The company is also demanding Arkansas to return the drug or have it confiscated.
Arkansas officials on the other hand explained they can not get the drug from another source. Should McKensson win, all pending executions would be blocked, according to what the state said in court papers.
Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said through a spokesman that she would appeal that ruling. Even if Arkansas gets the reversal of rulings at the state level, the eight inmates who were scheduled to be executed this month still have three requests for reprieves at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The executions of two convicted inmates Bruce Ward and Don Davis, which had earlier been scheduled for Monday, were cancelled after court ordered the halts over mental competency issues. On Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court also issued a stay for Johnson whose lawyers had been arguing for years about his innocence and are seeking DNA testing which they say will clear him of the 1993 murder and sexual assault of Carol Health. The other convicted inmate Lee was sentenced to death for beating Debra Reese to death with a tire in 1993.