Arkansas execution delayed as Supreme Court refuses to overrule state court

The US Supreme Court left in place a stay of execution for an Arkansas inmate, refusing to overrule the state supreme court.

Don Davis had been given his last meal Monday evening, with the US high court decision to leave a state court’s stay of execution in place coming as the minutes ticked toward 1 a.m. ET (midnight Central Time) when the execution warrant was to expire.

The effort to proceed with the execution was headed by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who went to the US Supreme Court after the Arkansas Supreme Court imposed a stay.

Rutledge was quick to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed,” Rutledge said, referring to the victim in Davis’ case. “Davis was convicted of his crimes in 1992, and my office took every action it could today to see that justice was carried out. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court has the final say and has decided not to lift the stay at this time.”

The execution would have been the first in Arkansas since 2005.

The Arkansas Supreme Court had stayed the executions of Davis and another inmate, Bruce Ward. The two are among eight Arkansas inmates facing possible execution this month amid a flurry of legal actions involving all eight cases.

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Saturday ruling by a federal judge that temporarily halted all eight executions.

That US District Court judge had ruled that the prisoners will likely succeed in demonstrating the state’s proposed method of lethal injection is unconstitutional. But the appeals court said the use of the method of execution, which includes the drug, midazolam, did not create undue severe pain.

The executions were set for this month because Arkansas’ supply of midazolam expires on May 1.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a statement Monday evening that said, in part, “We have asked the US Supreme Court and hope to get a decision later tonight.”

The attorney for Davis and Ward requested stays of execution until the US Supreme Court rules on an upcoming case concerning inmate access to independent mental health experts. The justices are set to hold oral arguments on April 24.

In a statement, Scott Braden, the attorney for both Davis and Ward, said his clients were “denied access to independent mental health experts, even though they clearly demonstrated that mental health issues would be significant factors at their trials. Mr. Ward has severe and life-long schizophrenia, breaks with reality, and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed since childhood. Mr. Davis has organic brain damage, intellectual disability, a history of head injuries, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other severe mental health conditions.”

Late Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court also overturned a temporary restraining order, issued by a state judge, that prevented Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide it had purchased from McKesson Medical-Surgical in executions. The company had argued the medication was not meant to be used in capital punishment.

The Arkansas Supreme Court had already blocked Ward’s execution due to questions about his mental competency. As of Monday evening, that stay remained.

As officials awaited further court action, Davis had his “last meal” at the Cummins Unit, where the execution chamber is located. According to the Arkansas Department of Correction, Davis chose fried chicken, rolls, great northern beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake.