Supplier sues again over Arkansas execution drug

In a chaotic day of legal wrangling, state and federal courts finally lifted the two primary obstacles Arkansas faced to carrying out its first executions since 2005, but another hurdle remained before the Supreme Court.

Acting shortly before midnight, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to lift a stay issued Monday by the Arkansas Supreme Court that prevented the execution of one of the inmates, Don Davis, report the Washington Post, Arkansas Times, New York Times and Arkansas Online.

An Arkansas inmate scheduled to die Thursday night is asking the state's Supreme Court to block his execution so he can pursue additional DNA testing to prove his claims of innocence. That order had effectively blocked the executions of eight inmates by the end of April. But then an appeals court suspended that injunction, allowing the state to go ahead with using the drug.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was "disappointed in this delay for the victim's family", though he noted that no stays now block executions for five other condemned inmates scheduled to die before the month's end.

The developments capped a day of waiting, preparation and a series of legal clashes.

The scheduled executions of two Arkansas death row inmates were halted after that state's Supreme Court granted stays Monday afternoon, effectively delaying the state's plan to execute the men by lethal injection before supplies of a key drug expire.

Arkansas had set the schedule because its supply of a lethal injection drug, midazolam, expires on May 1.

However, "the prisoners are preparing a petition to ask the US Supreme Court to review that", Rob Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told AFP on Tuesday.

Arkansas appealed in those cases and also hoped to dissolve a separate stay for Ward that had been issued by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

An eighth inmate, Jason McGehee, previously won a stay from a federal judge regarding his clemency schedule, and Arkansas has not appealed that ruling.

"The families have waited far too long to see justice, and I will continue to make that a priority", Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said late Monday.

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". If taken by the country's highest court, the justices would have to give a more definitive answer about the controversial drug midazolam - the first drug in Arkansas's lethal injection cocktail.

"This Easter season it is clear the Spirit is calling all to respond with mercy and justice to the egregious attacks on life like those in Arkansas and throughout our country", Clifton stated.

A decision in that case is expected by June.

Justices on the Supreme Court rejected a request by the state to lift a stay that would have allowed officials to conduct the state's first execution in almost a dozen years. A spokesman for Hutchinson said he did not believe that Davis could be put to death before the state's midazolam expires at the end of this month.

Davis shot and killed 62-year-old Jane Daniel in October 1990. Arkansas contends it has acted legally. "It was coldblooded. It was evil. The day I was found guilty in Bentonville, if they would have took me out that next day and executed me, I feel as though it would have been a just execution". This combination of undated photos provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows death-row inmates Stacey E. Johnson, left, and Ledell Lee.

  • Larry Hoffman