Arkansas conducts first execution since 2005, plans 3 more

Associated Press

VARNER, Ark. (April 21, 2017) — Arkansas carried out its first execution in nearly a dozen years despite a flurry of legal challenges that had spared three convicted killers, but courts still could scuttle the remainder of the nation's most ambitious death penalty schedule since capital punishment was restored in 1976.

"Apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the 'use by' date of the state's execution drug is about to expire...In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote.

Arkansas dropped plans to execute a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, on Thursday after the state Supreme Court said it wouldn't reconsider his stay, which was issued so Johnson could seek more DNA tests in hopes of proving his innocence.

State justices also on Thursday reversed an order by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray that halted the use of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the state's lethal injection process, in any execution. McKesson Corp. says the state obtained the drug under false pretenses and that it wants nothing to do with executions.

Justices also denied an attempt by makers of midazolam and potassium chloride — the two other drugs in Arkansas' execution plan — to intervene in McKesson's fight over the vecuronium bromide. The pharmaceutical companies say there is a public health risk if their drugs are diverted for use in executions, and that the state's possession of the drugs violates rules within their distribution networks.

The legal delays in the executions frustrated Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other state officials. Lawyers for the state have complained that the inmates are filing court papers just to run out the clock. Prisons director Wendy Kelley has said the state has no way to obtain more midazolam or vecuronium bromide.

But after the resumption of the death penalty on Thursday, Hutchinson's spokesman J.R. Davis said: "Justice was carried out."

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