Arkansas's Highest Court Keeps Executions On Hold, For Now

Oct 20, 2015

The Arkansas Supreme Court says a lower-court judge overstepped his jurisdiction by halting the executions of eight death row inmates, but then granted its own stay so the inmates have enough time to challenge a state law that shields the source of death penalty drugs from the public.

The justices issued the ruling Tuesday, granting the state's request to toss out a stay granted this month by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. But justices also immediately granted their own stay.

The executions were set to begin Wednesday, but Griffen had called them off and scheduled a hearing in March. The executions remain on hold, and justices didn't order Griffen to adopt a faster timetable.

One of drugs to be used in Arkansas' executions expires next June.

The court's opinion can be read here.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office has represented the state, issued this statement following the issuing of the court's stay.

The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the State’s argument that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to stay the executions; however, the Supreme Court did choose to enter its own order, placing executions on hold pending the outcome of litigation at the lower court. While the Supreme Court’s decision is not about the merits of the case, it is unfortunate that this further delays justice for the victims. I will continue to defend Arkansas’s lethal injection statute and fight for the victims and their grieving families.

Meanwhile the Arkansas Parole Board said Tuesday that an inmate once scheduled to die next month shouldn't receive clemency. 

Stacey Eugene Johnson
Credit Arkansas Department Of Correction

The board said it had voted 5-2 to recommend that Gov. Asa Hutchinson deny a clemency request from inmate Stacey Eugene Johnson. Johnson wanted his death sentence commuted to life without parole, saying he was denied access to certain records during a second trial.

He was convicted of capital murder in the death of Carol Heath, who was killed while her two young children were home. Her daughter, Ashley Heath, had asked the board to commute Johnson's sentence.

Hutchinson will have final say on the request.