Courts weighing whether Arkansas executions can happen

(AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel).

This combination of undated photos provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows death-row inmates Stacey E. Johnson, left, and Ledell Lee.

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

Meanwhile, in another ruling, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overruled a lower U.S. court decision that blocked Arkansas' plan to execute eight inmates in 11 days.

Davis' current execution warrant expires at 1 a.m. ET (midnight CT). Davis and Bruce Ward were set to be executed Monday night and had been granted stays by the state Supreme Court. Capital punishment in several states was stymied by problems with lethal-injection drugs and legal questions over their protocols. The lawyers contend that the cocktail of drugs that the state plans to use will cause "unconstitutional pain, suffering and torture" if the midazolam does not work as planned.

This 2010 photo provided by the U.S District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas shows U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.

But even with the court-issued stays, the executions are still possible before the end of April if the cases are sent to the Supreme Court and it sides with the state of Arkansas in its appeal. The state did challenge a stay granted to Davis but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reverse it.

Marc Hyden, the national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, an anti-death penalty group, also stressed the risk Arkansas' planned execution spree posed to corrections officers. He wrote that Ward and Davis have had "decades of appeals" and that the victims' families deserved closure.

Lawyers for the inmates scheduled for execution called the situation "assembly line killing".

The Arkansas high court already had issued one stay for Ward after a Jefferson County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution.

Arkansas is making preparations for a series of executions that, as of late morning Monday, it is legally barred from carrying out.

"We're in place and ready to go for whatever the court rules", said J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The first prisoner scheduled to die was Ward, who was convicted in 1990 of murdering an 18-year-old shop assistant named Rebecca Doss. The woman was killed in her home after Davis broke in and shot her with a.44-caliber revolver he found there.

Davis' execution would have come two years after Arkansas enacted a measure making secret the source of its lethal injection drugs, a move officials said was necessary to find new supplies.

Hutchinson and state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have been pushing to carry out the executions anyway. Ward, according to his attorney, has severe, life-long schizophrenia while David has "organic brain damage, intellectual disability, a history of head injuries, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other severe mental health conditions".

Arkansas had scheduled the executions to occur before the state's supply of midazolam expires at the end of April.

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. State and federal court rulings have stayed executions for two other inmates, and the state has yet to appeal those decisions.

It's unclear whether the state may face additional challenges over its execution drugs.

Later that day, Griffen joined an anti-death penalty protest outside the governor's mansion and lay down in a cot to simulate the gurney.

  • Larry Hoffman