Summary judgment sought in suit challenging lethal injection law


LITTLE ROCK — Nine inmates who are challenging the state’s lethal injection law have asked a circuit judge for summary judgment in their favor.

On the same day the plaintiffs’ motion was filed, the state asked the judge for a summary judgment in its favor.

The plaintiffs’ motion, filed Monday in Pulaski County Circuit Court, argues that summary judgment is appropriate because the lethal injection law passed this year should not be applied retroactively against the inmates, all of whom were convicted for offenses that occurred before the law was passed.

The motion also argues that the act violates the doctrine of separation of powers by giving the Arkansas Department of Correction too much discretion in choosing and administering lethal injection drugs.

The state Legislature passed legislation that became Act 139 of this year in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that a 2009 lethal injection law gave the director of the Department of Correction too much discretion in carrying out executions.

The plaintiffs argued Monday in a brief in support of their motion for summary judgment that “the General Assembly did not meaningfully fix the constitutional problem in the 2009 Method of Execution Act; the 2013 Method of Execution Act still does not provide any reasonable standard by which the ADC is to select lethal injection drugs, inject lethal injection drugs, or administer lethal injection drugs.”

The plaintiffs are death-row inmates Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Jack Jones, Bruce Ward, Kenneth Williams, Marcel Williams, Andrew Sasser, Don Davis and Terrick Nooner. Kenneth Williams is a former Pine Bluff resident.

The state attorney general’s office on Monday filed a cross-motion for summary judgment arguing that implementation of the Method of Execution Act is not barred by the dates of the inmates’ crimes because the law is not a sentencing law.

The state also argued in a brief in support of its motion that the new law did fix the constitutional issues with the 2009 law.

“Act 139 of 2013 requires ADC to carry out the procedure by using a lethal dose of a ‘barbiturate.’ This provision clearly limits ADC’s discretion in selecting the lethal drug; ADC’s options are confined to a single class of drugs rather than any conceivable substance as under the prior statute,” the motion states.

Arkansas has not executed a prisoner since 2005, in part because of legal challenges to the lethal injection process.

The state also lost its provider of execution drugs in May when West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, which had been providing the state with phenobarbital, closed Arkansas’ account because its parent company, London-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals, did not want its products used in executions.