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Jones v. Kelley

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 24, 2017

Jack Harold Jones, Jr. Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Wendy Kelley, Director, Arkansas Department of Correction, in her official capacity; Rory Griffin, Deputy Director, Arkansas Department of Correction, in his official capacity; Dale Reed, Chief Deputy Director, Arkansas Department of Correction, in his official capacity Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: April 22, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before RILEY, GRUENDER, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Jack Harold Jones, Jr. appeals the district court's[1] order denying a preliminary injunction, and he moves for a stay of his execution scheduled for tonight, April 24, 2017. Jones argues that, because of his specific medical conditions, the administration of the Arkansas Department of Correction's ("ADC") lethal-injection protocol will inflict cruel and unusual punishment on him in violation of the Eighth Amendment. We affirm the district court's order and deny his motion for a stay.

         I.

         On June 6, 1995, Jones entered an accounting office where Mary Phillips worked as a bookkeeper. On this day, Mary's eleven-year-old daughter, Lacy, was with her. Jones robbed the business at gunpoint, then took Mary and Lacy into a small break room. He tied Lacy to a chair in the bathroom adjacent to the break room, then returned to Mary. While Lacy sat, bound to a chair, in an adjacent room, Jones bludgeoned, raped, and strangled Mary to death. Afterwards, Jones severely beat and strangled Lacy, leaving her for dead. Lacy later regained consciousness, identified her assailant to police, and testified at Jones's trial. Jones was convicted of capital murder, rape, and attempted capital murder, and he was sentenced to death in 1996. Jones v. State, 8 S.W.3d 482, 483-86 (Ark. 2000); Jones v. State, 947 S.W.2d 339, 340 (Ark. 1997).

         Twenty-one years later, Jones still has not been executed. Instead, Jones, along with other death-row inmates, has delayed his execution through a series of lawsuits challenging different aspects of Arkansas's method-of-execution statute and the ADC's lethal-injection protocol. See, e.g., Hobbs v. McGehee, 458 S.W.3d 707 (Ark. 2015); Hobbs v. Jones, 412 S.W.3d 844 (Ark. 2012); Ark. Dep't of Corr. v. Williams, 357 S.W.3d 867 (Ark. 2009). Due in part to this stream of litigation, Arkansas has not carried out an execution since 2005-until last week.

         In 2015, the Arkansas legislature amended its method-of-execution statute to authorize the use of a three-drug protocol: midazolam, followed by vecuronium bromide, followed by potassium chloride. See Ark. Code Ann. § 5-4-617 (2015). In April 2015, Jones and other inmates challenged the legality of this protocol under the Arkansas Constitution in state court. Last year, the Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed their claims, and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari on February 21, 2017. Kelley v. Johnson, 496 S.W.3d 346, 355-60 (Ark. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 1067 (2017). Six days later, on February 27, 2017, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson scheduled executions for Jones and seven other inmates to occur in April 2017.

         On March 27, 2017, three weeks before the first scheduled execution, Jones and the other seven inmates initiated yet another lawsuit challenging the lethal-injection protocol. This time, they brought an action in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the protocol violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. As they did in state court, the inmates argued that the protocol will result in cruel and unusual punishment because midazolam cannot render the inmates insensate to the pain caused by the other two drugs in the protocol. On April 15, 2017, after conducting a four-day evidentiary hearing, the district court entered a preliminary injunction staying all of the executions while the case proceeded. We vacated the district court's stays of execution in McGehee v. Hutchinson, No. 17-1804, slip op. at 8 (8th Cir. Apr. 17, 2017) (en banc) (per curiam).

         In McGehee, we held that the inmates were not entitled to a stay for three reasons. First, we held that the inmates' use of "dilatory tactics" was sufficient reason to deny a stay. Id. at 4. Second, we held that "[t]he equivocal evidence recited by the district court falls short of demonstrating a significant possibility that the prisoners will show that the Arkansas protocol is 'sure or very likely' to cause severe pain and needless suffering." Id. at 6 (quoting Glossip v. Gross, 135 S.Ct. 2726, 2737 (2015)). Third, we held that "the availability of the several [alternative] methods cited by the district court is too uncertain to satisfy the rigorous standard under the Eighth Amendment." Id. at 7.

         Shortly thereafter, Jones filed this as-applied challenge to the protocol and requested a preliminary injunction. Jones argued that even if the protocol does not violate his fellow inmates' Eighth Amendment rights, it violates his Eighth Amendment rights because his specific medical conditions create a risk that the lethal-injection protocol will affect him differently than an average healthy inmate and will cause him severe pain. After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Jones's motion for a preliminary injunction. Jones now appeals and moves for a stay of his execution.

         II.

         "We review a district court's denial of a preliminary injunction for an abuse of discretion." Powell v. Noble, 798 F.3d 690, 697 (8th Cir. 2015); see also Jones v. Hobbs, 604 F.3d 580, 582 (8th Cir. 2010) (per curiam). "An abuse of discretion occurs where the district court rests its conclusion on clearly erroneous factual ...


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