LITTLE ROCK, Ark. The Arkansas Supreme Court late on Wednesday stayed the execution of Stacey Johnson, one of two inmates due to die on Thursday, and returned his case to the trial court for reconsideration of potential DNA evidence, handing the state another obstacle as it tried to execute eight prisoners in 10 days.
Minutes later a state circuit judge granted a temporary restraining order barring the state from using one of three drugs employed in its execution protocol. The order was requested by McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc, which has accused the state obtaining the drug, pancuronium bromide, under false pretenses.
McKesson said it would not have sold the drug to the Arkansas prison system had it known it would be used in executions. The company is demanding that the drug either be returned or impounded.
Arkansas officials have said they are unable to obtain the necessary drug from any other source, and have acknowledged in court papers that should McKesson prevail, all pending executions would be effectively blocked.
The state had planned to execute the inmates in four pairs over 10 days. The sentences of three of the prisoners were stayed in earlier proceedings.
State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said through her spokesman Judd Deere that she would appeal the restraining order to the state Supreme Court. An appeal of Johnson’s stay of execution was undecided, Deere said.
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 federal appeals court had rejected their arguments after a district judge had sustained them.
(Reporting by Steve Barnes in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Toni Reinhold)