- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2017

A federal judge on Thursday blocked the execution of one of the eight Arkansas inmates scheduled to die this month, and left open the possibility that another man could have his death sentence delayed before the executions begin April 17.

U.S. District Court Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. ruled in favor of 40-year-old Jason McGehee, saying the state must provide a 30-day comment period following the Arkansas Parole Board’s recommendation of clemency, which was announced Wednesday.

McGehee’s execution had been scheduled for April 27.

The parole board is slated to hear a clemency petition Friday from inmate Jack Jones, who also could have his execution pushed back if the board rules in his favor.

At the same time, the judge refused to stop the execution by lethal injection of five of the convicted murderers, saying they had failed to show that the accelerated timetable infringed on their constitutional rights.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved Feb. 27 the eight executions in 10 days in order to fit them in before one of the three drugs used in the lethal-injection protocol expires April 30.

The executions are slated to run from April 17 to April 27, with two inmates scheduled to be put to death per day over four days until McGehee was removed from the timetable.

McGehee was convicted in 1997 in the torture and strangulation of 15-year-old Johnny Melbourne Jr.

The state has been unable to execute any prisoners since 2005 as a result of a lengthy court battle over the Arkansas death penalty protocol, but was cleared Feb. 21 after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition filed by inmates.

Judd Deere, spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said in a statement that Ms. Rutledge would continue to fight to allow the state to carry out the execution schedule, which critics have blasted as an “assembly line.”

“The victims’ families have waited far too long to see justice for their loved ones, and today’s decision from Judge Marshall allows all but one of the scheduled executions to move forward,” Mr. Deere said. “Attorney General Rutledge will respond to any and all challenges that might occur between now and the executions as the prisoners continue to use all available means to delay their lawful sentences.”

The eight executions would have represented the most over a 10-day period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is planning to hold a rally April 14 at the state capitol in Little Rock calling on the governor to halt the executions.

⦁ This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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