Arkansas inmates set to die Thursday claim innocence

Arkansas inmates set to die Thursday claim innocence

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Lawyers for Arkansas inmates condemned to die Thursday in a planned double execution are claiming they are innocent and one of them says advanced DNA techniques could show he didn’t kill a woman in 1993.

Their strategy to win stays of execution is in marked contrast to the first two inmates who faced the death chamber in Arkansas and were spared Monday by arguing they should not be put to death because of mental health issues.

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.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson originally set out an aggressive schedule of eight lethal injections in 11 days that would have marked the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state set such a compressed schedule because its supply of one of the lethal injection drugs expires at the end of April.

One of the inmates set to die Thursday, Stacey Johnson, says advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn’t kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993 at her DeQueen apartment. The other inmate scheduled for Thursday, Ledell Lee, argued unsuccessfully Tuesday in a Little Rock courtroom that he be given a chance to test blood and hair evidence that could prove he didn’t beat 26-year-old Debra Reese to death during a 1993 robbery in Jacksonville. An appeal is possible.

Lawyers are known to make multiple arguments to save their clients’ lives in the final hours. The state and its lawyers say the inmates are seeking any legal approach they can find in their efforts to avoid death.

“It is understandable that the inmates are taking every step possible to avoid the sentence of the jury; however, it is the court’s responsibility to administer justice and bring conclusion to litigation,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “It is that process that we are seeing played out day by day, and we expect it to continue.

“My job as governor is to work with the attorney general to make sure that justice is accomplished and the law of Arkansas is carried out, and that’s what we’re working every day to accomplish,” he said.

Don Davis and Bruce Ward were supposed to be the first two executed. They won stays from the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday after lawyers argued their mental health issues were similar enough to those raised in an Alabama case going before the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

The execution of a third inmate, Jason McGehee, had been set for April 27, but a federal judge put it on hold earlier this month, saying McGehee was entitled to a 30-day comment period after the Arkansas Parole Board told the governor that the inmate’s clemency request had merit.

That leaves five men set for execution in an eight-day period starting Thursday. It’s the quickest timetable in Arkansas since 1926, though state officials say waiting more than two decades to put some of the killers to death could hardly be characterized as swift.

“The families have waited far too long to see justice, and I will continue to make that a priority,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said late Monday.

Lawyers for the inmates set to be executed Thursday are relying primarily on claims the men are innocent. Johnson’s attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, wants a court to order new DNA testing on hair found in the victim’s apartment and on clothing that prosecutors found at a rest stop and linked to Johnson.

“That’s something we had sought from the state and federal courts and had been denied, and we’re making another run at it and showing that there are new techniques that came into effect literally this year that can provide results that can bear on the case,” Rosenzweig said.

Rosenzweig also represents two other inmates scheduled to die this month — Jack Jones and Kenneth Williams. He said neither man would raise innocence claims. They instead will rely again on whether the sedative midazolam could present a risk of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to Lee’s innocence claim, his lawyers want to know whether their client has an intellectual disability that wasn’t properly investigated during his trials.

“Mr. Lee has never had the opportunity to have his case truly investigated, despite serious questions about guilt, and his intellectual disability,” Lee’s attorney, Cassandra Stubbs, said.

Separate from the inmates’ legal challenges, a handful of drug companies are saying they don’t want their products used in the executions. Two pharmaceutical companies filed a court brief last week asking a federal judge to block Arkansas from using their drugs, but the judge did not rule on that issue.

The medical supplier McKesson Corp. refiled its lawsuit Tuesday before a judge in Pulaski County. McKesson seeks an order that would force prison officials to return the company’s supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the state’s lethal injection protocol.

___

Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy and Kelly P. Kissel at www.twitter.com/kisselAP.

Sean Murphy And Kelly P. Kissel, The Associated Press

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Woman rescued from West Kelowna trail

The woman had to be rescued after falling on a trail and hurting her ankle

Kelowna woman to run ultramarathon for mental health awareness

After losing a friend to suicide, Melissa Gosse was reminded of how important mental wellbeing is

Kelowna-Mission Liberal candidate announced

Local developer Renee Merrifield is running for the BC Liberal Party in Kelowna-Mission

“Save Peachland’s Turner Park” petition gains traction

Local residents started the petition a week ago

Kelowna Liberal MLAs respond to ‘opportunistic’ snap election call

‘We have a fixed election date for a reason: so politicians like Mr. Horgan can’t try to arrange election dates when it suits political parties’

COVID-19: 4 more deaths, 366 new cases in B.C. since Friday

A total of 8,208 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 since January

16 COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health region

One person is in hospital and 34 people are isolating

Group wants Parliament, courts to hold social media to same standard as publishers

Daniel Bernhard made the comments shortly after Friends of Canadian Broadcasting released a research paper

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Truck, Shuswap police vehicle collide during arrest of wanted man

Emergency response team and helicopter called out to assist in Chase area arrest

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Stolen vehicle recovered from site of Vernon manhunt for wanted man

Police return to Brooks Lane in response to reports of suspicious vehicle

Shuswap search and rescue crew respond to dirt biker injured on Mount Ida

North Vancouver man transported to hospital for treatment of injuries

Popular South Okanagan cafe shuts its doors

Saint Germaine Cafe and Gallery served its last latte Sept. 19

Most Read