The fast-tracked Arkansas executions hit another snag Monday when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled to halt the executions of two men who were scheduled to be put to death Monday night.
The state was in a rush to execute eight inmates before the end of the month, when one of the drugs in its lethal injection protocol is set to expire. Both Bruce Ward and Don Davis had been set to be put to death Monday night, but THV 11 reports that in a 4-3 decision, justices granted a stay of execution for the two inmates, who wanted stays of execution while the U.S. Supreme Court hears a separate case concerning access to independent mental-health experts by defendants. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in that case April 24.
From THV 11:
Three Arkansas justices dissented, with Associate Justice Shawn Womack writing that Ward and Davis “had their day in court, the jury spoke, and decades of appeals have occurred. The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law.”
The inmates’ attorneys argued that their clients were denied access to independent mental-health experts, saying Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability.
The ruling was a blow for the state of Arkansas. With an expiring drug supply on hand, if hearings continue into the month of May, the state will not be able to carry out its expedited executions as planned.
As previously reported on The Root, U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker in Little Rock, Ark., issued a ruling Saturday blocking the executions of nine death row inmates, including Ward and Davis. Of the nine, one inmate’s execution had not been scheduled, and the executions of two others had been stayed.
However, late Monday afternoon, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Baker’s ruling halting the executions.
Baker’s ruling had come less than 24 hours after Pulaski County, Ark., Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that halted the eight scheduled executions based on a complaint filed by the drug company McKesson, which alleged that the state obtained a drug from it for use in lethal injections under false pretenses.
When McKesson found out the drugs would be used for lethal injections, it refunded the state’s money and requested the drugs back. When the state did not return them, the company filed a complaint Friday, and Griffen issued his restraining order within 30 minutes of that filing.
THV 11 reports that after issuing his order, Griffen participated in an anti-death-penalty demonstration during which he was strapped to a cot and reportedly mimicked a death row inmate about to receive a lethal injection. As a result, the Arkansas Supreme Court barred him from taking up any death-penalty-related cases and has asked a disciplinary panel to consider whether he has violated the code of conduct for judges.
As it stand now, six of the men scheduled to die will still be put to death unless something happens to save them.