US Supreme Court blocks execution

Remigio Civitarese
Aprile 20, 2017

Two death row killers have been given stays of execution by judges in the U.S. state of Arkansas.

"Their families, who've had to go through this nightmare for 20, 25, 30 years, and the justice they were hoping to get, they will once again, not", said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Governor Asa Hutchinson.

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. He is one of two inmates scheduled for execution Thursday.

VARNER, Ark. Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback to the states plan to resume capital punishment for the first time in almost 12 years by refusing to lift an order sparing an inmate just minutes before his death warrant expired.

Lawyers for the condemned also say that the accelerated executions could take a severe toll on the small team of penitentiary employees who carry out the death penalty, and who have not had to do so for 12 years.

Associate Justice Shawn Womack, writing in dissent, said Davis and Ward "had their day in court" and that the families are "entitled to closure and finality of the law".

Don Davis and Bruce Ward were both scheduled to be executed April 17, but the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed their executions.

In a statement, assistant federal defender Scott Braden praised the ruling.

Ward and Davis's attorneys say their clients were denied access to independent experts even though both have forms of mental illness.

Attorneys had asked for the appeal while the Supreme Court takes up another case involving inmates' access to unbiased mental health experts.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified they must conduct the executions with their current batch of midazolam, a sedative that is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts.

"After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light", stated Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end the death penalty. The Supreme court in Arkansas ruled that the stay was to remain in place.

The lawsuit requests that Arkansas return its supply of Vecuronium, which is set to be used in the upcoming executions.

The state "intended to use this product in connection with executions, a fact that was never disclosed to McKesson", the company said in Tuesday's filing in state court in Little Rock.

Arkansas contends it must act quickly because one of the drugs in its lethal injection mix, the valium-like sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April. Other courts blocked two of the executions over separate issues of competency and clemency. A pharmaceutical supplier alleges that the state bought the drug deceptively, actively misleading the seller about what it would be used for.

The decision was seen as a victory for Davis' lawyers, as well as the large number of death penalty opponents who have protested Hutchinson's plan. McKesson cited a testimony from Rory Griffin, ADC Deputy Director, in which he said ADC "undertook these actions" knowing that the manufacturer of the drug doesn't permit it to be used in executions.

However, a blanket ban was made on Saturday blocking all the executions.

The legal team representing the inmates argues the state's rapid execution schedule increases the likelihood the procedures will be botched, and that the drugs used amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

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