U.S. Supreme Court keeps stay in place, preventing Arkansas execution

Published 18 April 2017

11:49 p.m. UPDATE

An Arkansas inmate set to die by lethal injection Monday remains alive after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against lifting a stay of execution.

Convicted murderer Don Davis had been in a holding cell at the Cummins Unit in Lincoln County as legal battles loomed for hours that day over whether he would be granted additional time to fight death.

In a U.S. Supreme Court ruling shortly before midnight, Justice Samuel Alito declined to lift the stay.

Another inmate, Bruce Ward, was also set to die Monday. An effort from Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to overturn his stay was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

Rutledge’s office said it would not appeal a stay for Ward at this time. Ward was not taken to the Cummins Unit at any point Monday, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves told reporters.

Warrants authorizing the use of the state’s three-drug protocol, which includes the controversial anesthetic midazolam, were set to expire at midnight for Davis and Ward.

The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday had halted the executions of Davis and Ward. The inmates’ attorneys wanted the stays in place while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a separate case related to the defendants’ access to mental health experts.

Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness while Davis has an IQ in the range of an intellectual disability, attorneys argued.

Earlier in the day, the state’s high court also lifted an order that blocked the plan to execute eight inmates based on the three-drug protocol — including Davis and Ward — by the end of April.

Reporters from Arkansas as well as journalists from national and international news outlets had camped out in inside and outside the Cummins Unit for much of the afternoon and evening hours.

Inside the makeshift media center, a commons area adjacent to Davis’ holding cell and yards away from the execution chamber, journalists awaited the U.S. Supreme Court decision for hours.

At least two out of state residents lobbied near the prison against the death penalty ahead of the planned executions, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter at the site of the protest.

Davis was sentenced in March 1992 for the execution-style killing of 62-year-old Jane Daniel inside her Rogers home while her husband was away on a business trip in October 1990.

Attorneys for Davis appealed that conviction in 1994, but the appeal was denied in 1999 in Benton County Court. The circuit court’s ruling was then upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Ward was convicted in the August 1989 death of convenience store clerk Rebecca Doss, who was found strangled in the men’s bathroom of a Little Rock gas station.

Three more days of executions are planned for five prisoners over an 11-day period. Inmates still set to die, pending any additional appeals in court, are Ledell Lee, Stacey Johnson, Jack Jones, Kenneth Williams and Marcel Williams.

Read Tuesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

8:15 p.m. UPDATE

A decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether Arkansas can execute an inmate Monday night is expected within the hour, the governor's spokesman says.

Speaking at the Cummins Unit where executions are held, J.R. Davis said that Don Davis' lawyers have filed a response to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's appeal of the state Supreme Court's order blocking Davis' execution.

The court on Monday afternoon halted the executions of Davis and Bruce Ward, granting a request from the inmates' attorneys who wanted stays of executions while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case next week involving defendants' access to independent mental health experts.

Another stay is in place for Ward, whose attorneys say he is too mentally ill to be executed.

The attorney general's office said Monday night that it will not appeal the block on Ward's execution at this time.

Check back with Arkansas Online for updates on this developing story and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

—Arkansas Online staff and wire reports

7:15 p.m. UPDATE

The Arkansas attorney general has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to lift the stay blocking one inmate's execution Monday night.

In a statement, Leslie Rutledge's office said it has asked the justices to allow Don Davis to be put to death by lethal injection. The Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday afternoon halted the executions of Davis and Bruce Ward, granting a request from the inmates' attorneys who wanted stays of executions while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case next week involving defendants' access to independent mental health experts.

Another stay is in place for Ward, whose attorneys say he is too mentally ill to be executed.

Earlier Monday, the state Supreme Court rejected Rutledge's motion for reconsideration of that stay. Her spokesman, Judd Deere, said that Rutledge elected not to appeal Ward's execution at this time in light of the two Monday rulings.

Check back with Arkansas Online for updates on this developing story and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

—Arkansas Online staff and wire reports

6:48 p.m. UPDATE

The Arkansas Supreme Court has lifted an order that effectively blocked the state's plan to execute eight men by the end of the month, but a stay remains in place for two inmates facing executions Monday night.

Justices on Monday granted the state's motion to lift a Pulaski County judge's order prohibiting the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs used in the lethal injection protocol. A medical supply company said it was misled by the state and that the drug was sold to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

Earlier, the high court reassigned Judge Wendell Griffen's death-penalty cases after he was photographed at an anti-death penalty rally, lying down on a cot to apparently mimic an inmate's execution.

At the Cummins Unit on Monday night, J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said the state thinks that a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court could come by 8 p.m.

Check back with Arkansas Online for updates on this developing story and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

—The Associated Press

6:15 p.m. UPDATE

Arkansas has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the state's high court and allow two executions to continue as scheduled Monday night, the governor says.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in a statement sent shortly after 6 p.m., said Arkansas hopes to get a decision from the U.S. justices later Monday.

The governor's statement came after two separate rulings Monday. In one, the Arkansas Supreme Court halted the Monday executions of Don Davis and Bruce Ward, granting a request from the inmates' attorneys who wanted stays of executions while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case next week involving defendants' access to independent mental health experts.

“This decision was not unanimous and the dissenting opinions reflect the harm the delays cause the families of the victims and it also expresses my frustration in the continued delayed justice," the governor said.

Another stay is in place for Ward, whose attorneys say he is too mentally ill to be executed.

In the other ruling, a federal appeals court panel Monday dissolved a stay from a federal judge who'd halted coming executions over concerns about midazolam, one of the three lethal injection drugs that Arkansas wants to use.

—Arkansas Online staff and wire reports

5:30 p.m. UPDATE

Arkansas' attorney general says she will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a ruling from the state's highest court that blocked two executions set for Monday night.

The Arkansas Supreme Court had halted the executions of Don Davis and Bruce Ward, granting a request from the inmates' attorneys who wanted stays of executions while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case next week involving defendants' access to independent mental health experts.

Another stay is in place for Ward, whose attorneys say he is too mentally ill to be executed.

But a federal appeals court panel Monday dissolved a stay from a federal judge who'd halted coming executions over concerns about midazolam, one of the three lethal injection drugs that Arkansas wants to use.

Arkansas had planned eight executions before the end of April, when its midazolam supply expires.

Check back with Arkansas Online for updates on this developing story and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

—The Associated Press

3:55 p.m. UPDATE

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office is still pursuing the execution of two death-row inmates Monday night and is considering its options after the state Supreme Court granted stays Monday afternoon to Bruce Ward and Don Davis, an official said.

Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said the state could request that the Supreme Court reconsider its decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He did not give a timeline for when Rutledge's office would decide what to do.

"That decision was based on a misinterpretation of federal law, and Arkansas will seek immediate review," state attorneys said of the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision in a status update filed with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "Additionally, the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision does not affect Arkansas’s plans to carry out the remaining executions scheduled for April 20, 24, and 27, 2017."

The 8th Circuit is considering whether to uphold or reverse a federal judge's ruling Saturday that temporarily prevents Arkansas from carrying out the executions.

Ward and Davis are scheduled for execution Monday. Warrants authorizing their lethal injection expire at midnight.

— Eric Besson

3:55 p.m. UPDATE

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted the executions of two men originally scheduled to be put to death Monday night, putting another legal roadblock in place in Arkansas' plan to conduct eight executions before the end of April.

Justices granted the stays Monday afternoon for Don Davis and Bruce Ward. The inmates wanted stays of execution 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.

The inmates' attorneys say they were denied access to independent mental health experts. They've argued that Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability.

Arkansas' supply of one key execution drug expires April 30. A federal judge has also stayed the executions on different grounds, and the state has appealed that ruling.

— The Associated Press

11:30 a.m. UPDATE

The state’s highest court has not acted on a request that it lift a reprieve granted to one condemned man scheduled to die Monday night.

The Arkansas Supreme Court received a motion filed by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge requesting the court to reconsider its order granting Bruce Earl Ward a stay on his scheduled execution. Ward was one of originally eight inmates scheduled to die through lethal injection at the end of April.

On Friday, the state’s highest court stayed Ward’s pending execution. Ward’s lawyers had argued he is a paranoid schizophrenic incapable of comprehending his death, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Rutledge filed a motion over the weekend asking the court to reconsider. A spokesman for Rutledge initially said the motion was rejected Monday, but he later said that was incorrect and the state had simply not yet acted on it.

The state Supreme Court “still offered no reason to the stay but did indicate that three justices would have denied the request,” spokesman Judd Deere wrote in an email.

Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed, Deere said.

Ward was convicted in the 1989 killing of Rebecca Doss after she was found strangled in the bathroom of the Little Rock gas station where she worked.

— Emma Pettit

11:08 a.m. UPDATE

Arkansas’ attorney general has asked a federal appeals court to reject a request for additional oral arguments in the case of seven condemned inmates scheduled to be executed over 11 days, starting today.

Leslie Rutledge’s office filed an emergency motion with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday morning. The motion argues that a previous ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker to stay the executions should be “immediately reversed.” 📄 Click here to read the full emergency motion.

Baker sided with the inmates Saturday morning, saying that the lethal injections should be halted so the men could pursue a claim that they could suffer “severe pain.” The judge did not agree with all of the inmates claims, including their argument that a quickened pace of executions would likely lead to a botched execution, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

After Baker’s ruling, the condemned men’s attorneys asked the federal appeals court to schedule oral arguments to decide whether to allow the execution stays to remain in place.

Rutledge’s office said in the motion that while the lawyers “suggest longer proceedings are necessary, they do not point to anything they would do differently in a longer proceeding.”

The “request is nothing more than an attempt to manipulate the judicial process and make it impossible for Arkansas to carry out Appellees’ just and lawful sentences,” the motion states.

Rutledge’s office also said the condemned men’s lawyers had “numerous opportunities to (and did) challenge their method of execution and waited till well after Governor Hutchinson set their most recent executions to bring their current challenge ... Equity should, therefore, not permit Appellees to deliberately manipulate the judicial process to evade justice.”

The state adopted its protocol to use midazlolam, one of the three drugs in the state's lethal cocktail, in 2015. The inmates’ counsel could have brought a federal constitutional challenge anytime between now and then, the motion states. A suit was brought against the protocol in 2015 but later “voluntarily dropped” to avoid litigating it in federal court, Rutledge wrote.

Justice had long been denied to “victims and their loved ones,” the motion states.

“Now, the time has come to see that justice done."

— Emma Pettit

9:36 a.m. UPDATE

LITTLE ROCK — Lawyers for inmates facing a series of double executions in Arkansas say a federal appeals court should schedule oral arguments as it considers whether to dissolve or preserve the execution stays imposed by a lower court judge.

The executions would have started Monday night under Arkansas' aggressive plan to use a key drug before it expires at the end of April. But U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued stays Saturday so the inmates could pursue a claim that they could suffer "severe pain."

The state of Arkansas appealed and has asked for a quick decision. In a filing early Monday, the inmates' lawyers say the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should avoid a "rushed analysis."

Arkansas says it cannot find a new drug supply if the executions are delayed.

— The Associated Press