Arkansas High Court Issues Stay For 1 Inmate Scheduled To Die Thursday

Apr 19, 2017

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted one of two executions set for Thursday, saying the condemned inmate should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.

Stacey Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn't kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas apartment.

In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a stay for Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make his claims.

Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case.

UPDATE: Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is "surprised and disappointed" that the state Supreme Court has granted a stay of execution to Stacey Johnson. In a statement late Wednesday, Hutchinson did not say whether the state would appeal the 4-3 decision. Hutchinson says he wants a clear explanation from the court majority as to how they came to the decision.

Hutchinson's full statement:

“I am both surprised and disappointed at the last minute stay by the Arkansas Supreme Court.  When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases, but I expected the courts to allow the juries' sentences to be carried out since each case had been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each. The minority opinion was clear in its dissent, but I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review. I will continue to work with the attorney general as we evaluate our next steps.”