BREAKING: 8th Circuit lifts stay of executions

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THE DEATH CHAMBER: Now set to be put to use beginning April 20. - COURTESY ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION
  • Courtesy Arkansas Department of Correction
  • THE DEATH CHAMBER: Now set to be put to use beginning April 20.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled Monday that Arkansas's plan to execute seven men over the next 11 days could proceed. Federal Judge Kristine Baker issued a stay on the executions on Saturday. Today, the 8th Circuit lifted that stay.

Here is the ruling.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court will almost certainly be immediately filed by inmates' attorneys.

This ruling does not supercede the Arkansas Supreme Court's stay of the executions of Don Davis and Bruce Ward, which were scheduled to begin tonight. The state may appeal those stays to the U.S. Supreme Court. UPDATE: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says she will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Without intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court*, Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee will be put to death on April 20, Marcel Williams and Jack Jones on April 24 and Kenneth Williams on April 27.

Jason McGehee was supposed to be executed on April 27, but after the state Parole Board recommended him for clemency, a federal judge halted his execution because he said state law required a 30-day comment period on the clemency recommendation.

A majority of the 8th Circuit court found that inmates did not bring their lawsuit to federal court in a timely manner, did not prove that the use of midazolam — the controversial sedative in Arkansas's three-drug protocol — is "sure or very likely to cause serious illness and needless suffering" and did not demonstrate a known and available alternative to lethal injection that "would significantly reduce a risk of severe pain." The inmates had suggested a firing squad as an alternative.

Judge Jane Kelly, the lone Democratic appointee among active members of the court, dissented. Chief Judge Lavenski Smith, from Little Rock, did not participate in the ruling.

*UPDATE: A remaining wildcard in this is the temporary restraining order issued by Judge Wendell Griffen on the state's use of the paralytic vecuronium bromide in its execution protocol. The drug's supplier, McKesson, filed a lawsuit alleging the state illegally obtained the drug. In light of the federal injunction, McKesson had requested to withdraw the suit and vacate the temporary restraining order, but Griffin had not signed off on the request at the time the Arkansas Supreme Court reassigned the case to Circuit Judge Alice Gray.

Governor Hutchinson issued a statement:
“Once again last minute court rulings have changed the course of justice. Today, the 8th Circuit ruled the state could proceed with the death penalty sentence and expressed no concern over the execution schedule and the legislatively mandated means to carry out the lethal injection protocol. However, the State Supreme Court went a different direction and ruled that the execution of Don Davis and Bruce Ward could not proceed based upon the potential of some future direction of the U.S. Supreme Court that is unknown at the present time.

“This decision was not unanimous and the dissenting opinions reflect the harm the delays cause the families of the victims and it also expresses my frustration in the continued delayed justice. We have asked the US Supreme Court to overrule the Arkansas Supreme Court and hope to get a decision later tonight.”



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