Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.
The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, two days after justices stayed the executions of two other inmates. The series of 4-3 decisions blocking the start of what had been an unprecedented plan to execute eight men in 11 days were only the latest in recent years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.
The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty supporters including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson frustrated and critical of the high court.
"I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review," Hutchinson said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling.
Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law. One of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken."
But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million last year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.
The trial of two Canadian men from a fundamentalist sect that allows men to have multiple wives opened Tuesday with not guilty pleas being entered on charges of practicing polygamy.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler each face one count of polygamy. Both men have served as bishops for the religious settlement of Bountiful, British Columbia which follows the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, often referred to as the FLDS.
Oler is accused of having four wives. He pleaded not guilty. Blackmore remained mute and Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said a not guilty plea would be entered on his behalf. Blackmore is accused of marrying 24 women over 25 years.
Blackmore's lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said outside court his client chose to say nothing for religious reasons.
"He doesn't want to deny his faith. He doesn't feel guilty," Suffredine said. "The technical way around that is don't say anything and they'll enter the plea not guilty."
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson told the court his case includes marriage records seized from the church's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, which were used in 2010 to sentence leader Warren Jeffs to life in a U.S. prison for sexually assaulting two young girls.
An Austrian court has found a former Croatian general guilty of embezzling millions of euros and sentenced him and an associate to two years in prison.
The court in the southern city of Klagenfurt determined Wednesday that the ex-general, Vladimir Zagorec, and Guenter Striedinger were involved in diverting loans from the now-defunct Hypo Alpe Adria Bank. Striedinger was a bank board member.
Judge Michaele Sanin said the damages caused by the two amounted to over 17 million euros ( $18 million.)
The bank was nationalized to prevent bankruptcy in 2009 and its assets are being sold to pay off creditors.
Lawyers for both men say they are appealing the verdict and sentence.
A third man whom the court did not name also was found guilty and given a suspended prison term.
The Ohio Supreme Court wants to see unredacted autopsy reports from eight slayings in one family as justices consider media lawsuits seeking access to those full reports from the year-old, unsolved case.
The court on Wednesday ordered the Pike County coroner in southern Ohio to submit the reports within two weeks for justices to review outside of public view.
The case involves seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family who were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon last April.
The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full autopsies.
Authorities want to shield information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation. The coroner also says victims' relatives raised concerns about sharing details of how their loved ones died.
The first two inmates facing lethal injection under Arkansas' unprecedented multiple execution plan are seeking a stay from the state Supreme Court.
Attorneys for Don Davis and Bruce Ward asked justices Wednesday to block their executions, scheduled for Monday, while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants. The U.S. high court is set to hold oral arguments in that case April 24, a week after the two are set to be put to death.
The inmates' attorneys say they were denied access to independent mental health experts in their cases.
The two men are among seven inmates Arkansas plans to put to death over a 10-day period. The filing is among a flurry of lawsuits aimed at halting the executions.