Arkansas execution delayed as Supreme Court refuses to overrule state court

Posted April 20, 2017

Davis and Bruce Ward were set to be executed Monday night and had been granted stays by the state Supreme Court.

The decisions from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court were over the series of planned lethal injections that, if carried out, would mark the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Arkansas contends it must act quickly because one of the drugs in its lethal injection mix, the valium-like sedative midazolam, expires at the end of April.

After the executions were halted, Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock said, "I would like to thank everyone who has prayed and worked so hard to prevent these scheduled executions from taking place". Two of the inmates were granted stays of execution outside of the federal judge's 15 April decision.

It was used in executions in three U.S. states in 2014 that took longer than usual.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge says there are five scheduled executions remaining and no legal obstacles to carrying them out, although she expects lawyers for the inmates to file fresh court challenges.

"Mr. Ward and Mr. Davis were denied access to independent mental health experts, even though they clearly demonstrated that mental health issues would be significant factors at their trials", he said.

Arkansas governor spokesman J.R. Davis speaks after the news that the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the scheduled Monday, April 17, 2017, execution of Don Davis, scuttling efforts to resume capital punishment after almost 12 years, in Varner, Ark.

In another case, Baker cancelled an April 18 hearing in which the lawyers for Marcel Williams, who is scheduled to be executed April 24, meant to argue that because of his obesity, Arkansas' lethal injection protocol is not likely to kill him and could cause organ damage. The state did ask the U.S. Supreme Court to lift a stay granted to Davis, but the high court's last-minute refusal ensured he would not enter the death chamber Monday.

Lee also wants his federal case reopened, with his attorneys arguing that Lee has fetal alcohol syndrome, brain damage and intellectual disability.

Capital punishment in several states has been stymied by opposition of some global drug companies to the use of their products for executions and difficulties in finding effective replacements.

But the state high court's ruling halting the executions remains in effect. Monday marked the first day that the U.S. Supreme Court was in session with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

"Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country", he said in a statement. Arkansas planned to complete the executions in 10 days. But that ruling was overturned on Monday by a federal appeals court. But the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated that order after the judge, Wendell Griffen, was photographed participating in an anti-death penalty protest on the same day he issued his ruling.

On April 6, U.S. District Judge J.P. Marshall halted one of the executions, saying the expedited schedule did not allow proper time for considering clemency for inmate Jason McGehee, who is one of the inmates set to die on April 27. Two pharmaceutical companies filed a court brief last week asking Baker to block Arkansas from using their drugs, but Baker did not rule on that issue. Two inmates are set to be put to death Thursday.

"What Governor Hutchinson is faced with is really an extraordinary situation", said Jim Guy Tucker, who, as a Democratic governor of Arkansas in the 1990s, oversaw seven executions.