Arkansas set to execute first inmate since 2005

Unless a court steps in, Lee and Stacey Johnson are set for execution Thursday night. However, two court orders issued Wednesday could derail the state's plans.

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. The first two executions were canceled because of court decisions, and legal rulings have put the other six in doubt. He was the first to die of eight inmates who had been scheduled for executions over 11 days starting last Tuesday. Hutchinson said that it was not his preference, but that it is necessary because one of the state's lethal-injection drugs will expire at the end of the month.

Governor Asa Hutchinson set the unprecedented schedule due to one of the drugs in the state's lethal injection mix expiring at the end of the month.

The state's plan prompted an unprecedented flurry of legal filings that argued the process should be halted, citing problems with USA death chamber protocols and lethal injection drug mixes.

Arkansas officials are vowing to press ahead with the Thursday executions despite the setback to plans to resume capital punishment after a 12-year hiatus.

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Moments before Gray's ruling, the Arkansas supreme court halted the execution of one of two inmates scheduled to die on Thursday, saying that the condemned prisoner should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.

The justices and their clerks know well in advance when executions are scheduled and where.

New issues also arise late in the process, including questions about execution drugs. Pending before the U.S. 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.

A state judge had earlier issued a similar temporary restraining order on vecuronium bromide from McKesson, but the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned that order late Monday.

Solomon Graves, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Corrections said Lee requested the holy communion in lieu of a last meal.

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Tim Jenkins of McKesson says Griffin never told him the drug would be used for executions.

The state filed an amended plan Monday that grants attorneys for the inmates more phone access while on prison grounds. The state Supreme Court reversed a ruling by a lower court in favor of a drug supplier. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Arkansas' request to lift one of the stays.

But Arkansas' attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, has pledged to overcome the stays and haul Ward and Davis back into the death chamber. Johnson was sentenced to death for the murder of Carol Jean Heath, a woman brutally killed in her home. He said on Wednesday he was "both surprised and disappointed" by the delays.

"We are pleased that the court has ruled in our favor and we look forward to the return of our product", McKesson said in a statement on Wednesday.

Lee also argues that his trial judge had an affair with an assistant prosecutor and that he was previously represented by a lawyer who showed up drunk at court. In that order, the state Supreme Court did not elaborate on its reasoning.

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