The U.S. Supreme Court thwarted Arkansas’ first attempt at an execution in 12 years by denying the state’s request to lift the stay of execution for a prisoner. The high court issued its order denying the state’s request around 11:45 p.m. Monday, 15 minutes before the execution warrant for prisoner Don Davis expired.
The flurry of court rulings will continue as Arkansas pushes on with its unprecedented attempt to execute eight prisoners in an 11-day span. Critics have blasted the state’s “conveyor belt” plan for multiple executions as inhumane and a denial of the prisoners’ due process.
The execution warrant for one prisoner has expired and individual stays have been issued for two more, but the state has five other men it will attempt to execute by April 27. The next attempt is scheduled for Thursday, when Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee are set to die in a double execution.
The state is aggressively moving to cull its death row before its supply of midazolam ― a controversial sedative in the lethal-injection cocktail ― expires later this month. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) has said he’s unsure whether the state could get more.
Before the high court made its late-night decision, Monday’s legal battle was the state’s attempt to reverse decisions made over the weekend that would temporarily halt all the executions.
Instead, the Arkansas Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision on Monday, granted stays of execution for Bruce Ward and for Davis.
“There will be no executions tonight. We are deeply grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued stays of execution for Bruce Ward and Don Davis,” Scott Braden, assistant federal defender in Arkansas, said in an email statement.
State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she would immediately appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court before changing course to say she wouldn’t appeal Ward’s stay “at this time.”
Hutchinson criticized the state Supreme Court for sparing the two men.
Soon after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling, a federal appeals court lifted stays for five of the condemned inmates that had been put in place on Saturday. That case challenges the state’s method of performing the executions. A stay for prisoner Jason McGehee was granted in a separate case on Friday.
In Monday’s ruling, the U.S. Eight Circuit Court of Appeals said the five inmates had ample time already to file objections to the execution protocol, and only acted at the last minute. Judge Jane Kelly, in a dissent, argued the the case was about more than which drugs are used to put inmates to death, and questioned whether Arkansas was in line with the Eight Amendment’s “evolving standards of decency.”
Despite the federal appeals ruling, a state court ruling that blocks the state Department of Corrections from using pancuronium bromide ― a second drug in the lethal three-drug mixture ― remains in place.
The state temporary restraining order was granted Friday by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who has since become controversial for attending a death penalty protest hours after his ruling.
Drugmaker McKesson Medical-Surgical sought the order to prevent the state from using the drug after learning the corrections department had obtained it for executions, which the company doesn’t permit. A day after winning the restraining order, the company filed to withdraw its petition, saying the federal ruling that stayed the executions made the state court order unnecessary.
Griffen drew criticism from Republican lawmakers for taking part in Friday’s protest. Griffen faces potential disciplinary action and was removed from all death penalty-related criminal and civil cases in Pulaski County.
This article has been updated to reflect the latest developments in the legal battle.