US Supreme Court spares Arkansas inmate from execution

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted the execution of Ward, one of two inmates facing lethal injection Monday under the state's multiple execution plan.

Justices from the state's top court on Monday reassigned the cases from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen.

"We have worked round the clock for the last couple of weeks and particularly in the last couple of days, as judges have made decisions and court cases have been filed in these pieces of litigation, to ensure again that justice is carried out for these families of the victims", Rutledge told Little Rock NBC-affiliate KARK over the weekend.

The state high court's majority decision, delivered without explanation, was a response to a plea for the state to avoid executing Don W. Davis until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in a pending case.

Both Davis and Ward are represented by attorney Scott Braden, who argues that each man is too mentally ill to be subjected to this brutal punishment. A federal judge has also stayed the executions on different grounds, and the state has appealed that ruling.

The executions would have started Monday night under Arkansas' aggressive plan to use a key drug before it expires at the end of April.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified that they have no new source for the sedative, which is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts.

The eighth circuit appeal overturned a 101-page ruling on Saturday by the federal district judge Kristine Baker, in which she questioned the reliability of the sedative midazolam that is used as the first chemical in Arkansas' triple lethal injection protocol. Davis came within six hours of execution in 2010 before he was spared by the state Supreme Court. 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.

The legal fight in Arkansas, which has not held an execution in 12 years, came after USA executions fell to a quarter-century low in 2016 and as capital punishment in several states was stymied by problems with lethal injection drugs and legal questions over their protocols.

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 state's attorneys are fighting to persuade judges to allow the executions - and to make the decision quickly.

KATV, citing anonymous officials, reports that death row inmate Don Davis has been transferred to the unit where the state's Department of Correction was preparing to carry out executions.

Arkansas began preparing two death row inmates for execution on Monday night, despite a flurry of legal challenges attempting to hold back what would be the most intense burst of judicial killing in the USA in more than half a century. Two inmates gasped for breath and took longer than expected to die.

He said the state would continue towards carrying out the executions of the other inmates. Ward had been scheduled to die Monday night under the state's plan to put eight inmates to death before the end of the month.

If the attorney had to rush out to file an emergency petition, it would deprive the inmate of a lawyer to witness the execution, Baker said.

Arkansas enacted a law two years ago keeping secret the source of its lethal injection drugs, a move officials said was necessary to find new supplies.

  • Larry Hoffman