(Adds background; federal judge denying stay of second
execution slated for Thursday)
By Jon Herskovitz and Steve Barnes
April 18 A major U.S. 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.
Arkansas, which last carried out an execution a dozen years
ago, has sought to resume capital punishment this month with a
plan that originally called for putting eight inmates to death
by lethal injection in 11 days.
That tally would have marked the highest concentration of
executions over such a short period in a single state since the
U.S. Supreme Court allowed reinstitution of capital punishment
However, three of the condemned killers headed for the death
chamber this month have already won stays of execution in a
flurry of legal challenges and criticism that Arkansas was
On Tuesday lawyers for all eight inmates filed a petition
with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a reprieve for the entire
group on the basis of such issues as alleged flaws in the
state's execution procedures and inadequate access to legal
Arkansas' death penalty push came as the number of U.S.
executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016. (For a graphic
on the number and method of U.S. executions, see: tmsnrt.rs/26wAN2v)
Capital punishment in several states has been stymied by
opposition of some global drug companies to the use of their
products for executions and difficulties in finding effective
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.
In a repeat of its lawsuit against Arkansas, McKesson
Medical-Surgical, a unit of McKesson Corp, said the
state's correction department had acted deceitfully when it
purchased another drug, vecuronium bromide, a commonly used
muscle relaxant given in extreme doses in executions to paralyze
the body and halt breathing.
The state "intended to use this product in connection with
executions, a fact that was never disclosed to McKesson," the
company said in Tuesday's filing in state court in Little Rock.
McKesson originally sued Arkansas last week but withdrew the
complaint after a federal court on Saturday temporarily blocked
the 11-day plan for eight executions. But that ruling was
overturned on Monday by a federal appeals court.
The company wants the drug supply in question impounded.
Arkansas contends it has acted legally.
Five inmates remain in line for the death chamber in the
coming days, starting with Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on
Thursday in what would be the first dual executions carried out
anywhere in the United States in 17 years.
On Tuesday, a state judge refused Lee's petition seeking a
stay to allow for DNA tests his lawyers say would prove his
innocence. A federal judge later denied a reprieve for Johnson,
who asserted his obesity and other medical conditions posed the
likelihood that death by lethal injection would subject him to
unconstitutional pain and suffering.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas and Steve Barnes
in Little Rock; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)