LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted one of two executions set for Thursday, saying the condemned inmate should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.
Stacey Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn’t kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas apartment.
In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state’s highest court issued a stay for Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make his claims.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is “surprised and disappointed” that the state Supreme Court has granted the stay of execution to Johnson.
In a statement late Wednesday, Hutchinson did not say whether the state would appeal the 4-3 decision. Hutchinson says he wants a clear explanation from the court majority as to how they came to the decision.
Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case.
The Innocence Project previously asked the state’s circuit court to grant Johnson new DNA testing , CBS affiliate KTVH reports.
In a press release, the group said newer DNA testing has “never been performed” in Johnson’s case and could potentially prove his innocence.
The evidence in the case shows Heath was stabbed in the throat and raped. Johnson has maintained his innocence throughout his entire time in prison.
KTVH reports that anti-death penalty protesters have camped out in front of the governor’s mansion in Little Rock in the weeks leading to the decision.