AR Supreme Court stays execution of SWAR death row inmate

AR Supreme Court stays execution of SWAR death row inmate
Stacey Eugene Johnson, of DeQueen, Ark.

SEVIER COUNTY, AR (KSLA) - The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted the execution of a DeQueen, Ark., man who was one of two inmates set to die Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

The court said Stacey Eugene Johnson should have an opportunity to use more DNA testing to try to prove his innocence.

Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show he didn't kill 25-year-old Carol Heath, a mother of two, in her apartment in 1993.

In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a stay for Johnson and ordered a new hearing in a lower court for Johnson to make his claims.
Court filings recently picked up throughout Arkansas trying to block the executions of Johnson and seven other death row inmates.

"It is certainly not a done deal that he will be executed on Thursday," Arkansas Circuit Judge Tom Cooper, who was the prosecuting attorney in Johnson's second trial, said before the state Supreme Court's decision.

"I would like to see justice done. And, in my opinion, that (execution) would be justice in this case," he continued, "I was there in trying this case, I know what he did."

Johnson was convicted in two separate trials for killing DeQueen mother Carol Heath in 1993.

Investigators found Heath's throat had been cut.

Around her body were the footprints of her two small children.

"I was not surprised of the verdict nor the sentence," said attorney Mickey Buchanan, who represented Johnson in 1997 during his second murder trial.

"The evidence in the first trial was presented and he was found guilty and was given the death penalty," Buchanan explained.

"And it was moved to another county and the same evidence was presented. And the opinion was the same in both cases."

Yet the appeals keep coming.

Brian Cheshir, the Ninth Judicial District prosecuting attorney, says mounds of paperwork and appeals in this case, including new DNA testing, have kept his office busy.

"Stacey Johnson was not entitled to the relief he was requesting post conviction DNA based on the fact it was untimely under the stature to ask for new DNA testing. He had to do it within 36 months of the time of his conviction."

Ledell Lee, the other inmate set to die Thursday, also seeking a stay in a separate case.

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