US Supreme Court stops execution of Arkansas death row inmate

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Monday marked the first day that the U.S. Supreme Court was in session with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

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.

Bruce Ward and Don Davis, who were to be executed Monday night, won stays from the Arkansas Supreme Court and the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Davis but not Ward.

As state officials prepare to carry out a double execution Thursday ahead of a drug expiration deadline and despite the setback the U.S. Supreme Court delivered late Monday, lawyers for those condemned men look to be taking a different approach: claiming the prisoners are actually innocent.

In state court on Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen blocked the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide after a distributor complained prison officials used false pretenses to obtain it.

Meanwhile, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated April 17 a federal judge's preliminary stay of executions which had been handed down April 15.

Arkansas had run out of its supply of potassium chloride in January, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson said they would be able to procure a supply for the executions.

Arkansas, which last put someone to death 12 years ago, is seeking to resume capital punishment, with a plan that originally called for the executions of eight inmates in 11 days.

"Davis' exact schedule for the day is confidential but as part of the death protocol, he will be meeting with counsel and a spiritual adviser", KATV reports. The issue in that case is about one of the drugs scheduled to be used in the lethal injections.

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The drugs used in lethal injections by some American states - 19 of the 50 no longer execute prisoners - have become increasingly hard to obtain.

"Both Mr. Ward and Mr. Davis were denied independent mental health experts to help their defense attorneys investigate, understand, and present these critical mental health issues to the jury", Assistant Federal Defender Scott Braden said in a statement.

McKesson cited a testimony from Rory Griffin, ADC Deputy Director, in which he said ADC "undertook these actions" knowing that the manufacturer of the drug doesn't permit it to be used in executions.

Earlier, the state high court's 4-3 decision was a response to a plea for the state to avoid executing Davis until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in a pending case. Davis had been granted stays by the state Supreme Court.

Arkansas was set to begin an 11-day execution spree of seven prisoners on Monday, but state and federal rulings created roadblocks that put the state's aggressive plan in jeopardy.

No single U.S. state has held eight executions in 10 days since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

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

One inmate, Jason McGehee, had already been granted a temporary stay last week after a parole board recommended clemency.

The court battles are playing out on multiple fronts as the state's supply of midazolam expires on April 30. It backed off its attempts to commit to the death sentence for another inmate. They filed a separate petition for stays on Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court over a procedural matter.

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