Arkansas vows to keep pushing for executions despite setback
Last week, the US Bishops' Conference's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development pleaded with the Governor of Arkansas to reconsider his plans to execute seven men in the next 11 days to use up the state's last batch of the controversial drug Midazolam because it is due to expire at the end of the month. That pace would have been unprecedented in the modern history of the US death penalty. Don Davis would be the first to die.
The state Supreme Court on Monday had lifted a judge's order blocking the drug's use in executions, which the company had initially sought. But the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated that order after the judge, Wendell Griffen, was photographed participating in an anti-death penalty protest on the same day he issued his ruling.
Monday was a chaotic day in both state and federal courts, which ended up lifting two of the largest obstacles that faced Arkansas from carrying out its first execution since 2005, reports ABC News. The state decided not to challenge the stay for Ward, whose lawyers argue in a separate suit that he's mentally unfit for execution.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the Supreme Court's decision was "heartbreaking" but that her office will continue to respond to all legal challenges brought by the death row prisoners.
The last-minute Supreme Court decision came after a day of frenzied legal action over Davis and the other Arkansas inmates.
In a statement, assistant federal defender Scott Braden praised the ruling.
"Mr. Ward and Mr. Davis were denied access to independent mental health experts, even though they clearly demonstrated that mental health issues would be significant factors at their trials", he said.
His attorneys have separately asked a federal judge to consider claims that Lee has fetal alcohol syndrome, brain damage and an intellectual disability.
"Immediate reversal is warranted", Arkansas' solicitor general, Lee Rudofsky, wrote Saturday to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Alabama case on April 24.
After the US Supreme Court declined to reverse the stay on Davis' execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, stated: "I am disappointed in this delay for the victim's family". That's true whether it's the inmate who is seeking an eleventh-hour reprieve or the state that wants to put a prisoner to death. The executions of Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee are scheduled for April 20, but their attorneys are working to halt those as well. Johnson's attorneys appealed immediately.
Arkansas appealed the stay on Davis, but did not pursue Ward's case. But the appeals court said the use of the method of execution, which includes midazolam, did not create undue severe pain. The inmates say midazolam is unsuitable as an execution drug, saying it is not a pain-killer and could subject them to a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Two of the executions had been stayed individually before all eight of them were blocked by a state judge and a federal judge. The state's highest court granted a stay on Monday afternoon.
Griffin had on April 14 ruled that the state's supply of vecuronium bromide, an anesthetic which induces paralysis and which is the second of the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol, could not be used in the process.
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