Arkansas inmates set to die Thursday claim innocence

USA drug wholesaler McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc sued Arkansas a second time on Tuesday, saying the state acted fraudulently in obtaining a drug it intends to administer in a record number of executions this month and demanding it not use the batch to kill people.

Also at the Pulaski County courthouse Tuesday was a hearing for death row inmate Ledell Lee, one of the next two inmates scheduled to die Thursday. Both men are scheduled for execution on April 20, 2017.

According to a Democrat-Gazette reporter who was part of the group set to witness the execution, some time after 11 p.m. three media witnesses were allowed to leave the media center and travelled by vehicle to the Cummins unit, stopping behind a van of witnesses outside the death chamber.

Anti-death penalty supporter Randy Gardner, left, wipes away a tear moments after Abraham Bonowitz, left, read on his phone the 11:45pm Supreme Court decision to halt the execution in their taped off "protest corral" outside the Varner Unit late Monday, April 17, 2017 near Varner, Ark.

After the first two scheduled death row inmate executions were blocked Monday night, Tuesday has seen a flurry of activity from both sides, pulling out all the stops.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has vowed to press forward with plans to execute the five remaining inmates before the state's supply of one of the execution drugs, midazolam, expires at the end of April. The state originally wanted to put to death eight men in 11 days but that is down to five after the two won stays Monday and a third was earlier put on hold by a federal judge. Arkansas contends it must act quickly because its supply of one of the drugs in its lethal injection mix, the valium-like sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April. An appeal is possible.

In a separate action on Tuesday, lawyers for all eight inmates filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to halt all the executions on issues including drug protocols and access to counsel. Strict distribution controls imposed by dozen of drug companies in the USA and Europe have made it hard for U.S. states practicing the death penalty to acquire the chemicals to use in lethal injections.

"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. The case of another inmate scheduled to die Monday will be heard by the full U.S. Supreme Court.

At this point, yes, in five of the executions: for Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, scheduled to die Thursday night; for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, set for lethal injection April 24; and for Kenneth Williams, scheduled for execution April 27. 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.

Bruce Ward, another inmate who had been set to die Monday, was never moved to a Cummins holding cell because Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge declined to appeal court stays blocking his execution.

Lawyers for the inmates set to be executed Thursday are relying primarily on claims the men are innocent.

It's the second time in seven years that Davis has come within hours of execution before courts intervened.

Lee filed a last minute request for new DNA testing he claims could help prove he's innocent.

A major USA pharmaceutical firm sued Arkansas again over capital punishment on Tuesday, claiming prison officials fraudulently obtained a muscle relaxant to administer in several executions and demanding the drug in question be confiscated from the state.

His attorneys have separately asked a federal judge to consider claims that Lee has fetal alcohol syndrome, brain damage and an intellectual disability.

The previous day, an Arkansas judge, responding to a lawsuit from two pharmaceutical companies, issued a temporary restraining order on the state's executions based on evidence the state may not have obtained Midazolam properly.

But on Tuesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright rejected that request, noting that Lee's conviction has been reviewed multiple times.

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