Board recommends rejecting clemency for 2 Ark. inmates

The state's current stock of midazolam expires at the end of April

By Andrew DeMillo 
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Parole Board recommended Monday that the governor reject long-shot bids for clemency by two inmates facing lethal injection next month as the state prepares for an unprecedented four nights of double executions over a 10-day period.

The board told Gov. Asa Hutchinson the clemency requests by convicted murderers Stacey Eugene Johnson and Ledell Lee were without merit. The ultimate decision on whether to spare the men's lives rests with Hutchinson, who scheduled the executions last month.

Arkansas has not carried out an execution since 2005. Five of the eight inmates currently scheduled for executions have asked the Parole Board to spare their lives. Johnson and Lee are set to die April 20. Other double executions are set for April 17, April 24 and April 27.

The eight inmates asked a federal judge earlier Monday to block the state's unprecedented plan, arguing that the state's planned use of the controversial sedative midazolam and the rushed schedule violates their constitutional rights. The state's current stock of midazolam expires at the end of April.

Johnson, 47, was condemned for the 1993 death of Carol Heath, who was beaten and strangled, and had her throat slit. DNA evidence included a hair found on Heath's body and a cigarette butt with Johnson's saliva that was found in the pocket of a shirt left at a roadside park with Heath's blood on it.

Lee, 51, was sentenced to die for the 1993 death of Debra Reese, a neighbor who was beaten to death in her home with a tire iron that her husband had given her for protection. She was struck 36 times.

Both men have claimed they were innocent, and their attorneys cited problems with the way their cases were handled in lower court. The victims' family members urged the board to not commute the inmates' sentences, saying they wanted closure.

Of the 27 people executed in Arkansas since 1990, 20 had clemency requests rejected and the others didn't apply. In 1999, against the parole board's recommendation, then-Gov. Mike Huckabee reduced Bobby Fretwell's sentence to life without parole after a juror said he went along with Fretwell's condemnation because he didn't want to be ostracized in his small town.

Monday's lawsuit is the latest of several efforts by the inmates to halt the executions. A separate challenge against Arkansas' lethal injection law — which keeps the source of the state's lethal injection drugs secret — is pending in Pulaski County Circuit Court. The inmates have also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to not weigh in on a state court ruling upholding the law's constitutionality.

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