Fourth in­mate granted last-minute stay of ex­e­cu­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

A fourth Arkansas mur­derer has won a last-minute bid to de­lay his ex­e­cu­tion, fur­ther dis­rupt­ing the state’s plan to put eight in­mates to death be­fore the April 30 ex­pi­ra­tion of a key lethal-in­jec­tion drug.

By a 4-3 vote, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted a stay of ex­e­cu­tion late Wed­nes­day to Stacey Eu­gene John­son and sent his case back to the cir­cuit court for ad­di­tional DNA test­ing on ev­i­dence found at the crime scene.

John­son, 47, was sched­uled to be ex­e­cuted Thurs­day for the bru­tal 1993 mur­der of 25-year-old Carol Heath, who was found stran­gled and beaten with her throat slit in her De Queen, Arkansas, apart­ment.

John­son’s at­tor­neys with the In­no­cence Project ar­gued that “newer meth­ods of DNA test­ing that have never been per­formed in the case could pro­vide com­pelling proof that John­son didn’t com­mit the crime.”

“Ev­i­dence that could be tested in­cludes: hairs, vagi­nal, anal and oral swabs taken from the vic­tim’s body, fin­ger­nail sam­ples taken from the vic­tim, cloth­ing worn and used by the per­pe­tra­tor dur­ing the mur­der, and swabs taken from bite marks on the vic­tim’s breasts,” said the project in a Tues­day press re­lease.

In her dis­sent, Judge Rhonda K. Wood ar­gued John­son had made a “vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal ar­gu­ment to this court, which we unan­i­mously re­jected” in 2004.

“With no ex­pla­na­tion or in­struc­tion, this mat­ter has been re­manded to the trial court for an­other hear­ing,” she said. “To­day, our court gives un­cer­tainty to any case ever truly be­ing fi­nal in the Arkansas Supreme Court.”

A spokesman for Arkansas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge said she is con­sid­er­ing how to pro­ceed. She has the op­tion of fil­ing an ap­peal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which re­jected her ef­fort late Mon­day to over­turn a stay of ex­e­cu­tion in a dif­fer­ent case.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has granted two stays in the last week for in­mates Bruce Ward and Don Davis. Their at­tor­ney had asked for a de­lay pend­ing the out­come of a case be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court on whether de­fen­dants have a right to in­de­pen­dent men­tal-health eval­u­a­tions.

A fourth in­mate, Ja­son McGe­hee, had his ex­e­cu­tion de­layed ear­lier this month in or­der to pro­vide a 30-day com­ment pe­riod for the state pa­role board’s de­ci­sion to rec­om­mend clemency.

Also sched­uled to be put to death Thurs­day is in­mate Ledell Lee, 51, who is also chal­leng­ing the gov­er­nor’s ex­e­cu­tion or­der in court.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Anti-death penalty sup­port­ers Abra­ham Bonowitz and Randy Gard­ner wait near their taped-off “protest cor­ral” out­side the Varner Unit near Varner, Arkansas.

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