U.S. Supreme Court Stops Don Davis Execution

Update:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A late night, down-to-the-wire ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily spared the life of Death Row Inmate Don Davis.

With about 10 minutes to go before Davis' death warrant was due to expire, the high court decided to uphold a stay of execution.

"The application to vacate the stay of execution of sentence of death entered by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 17, 2017, presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied," stated the high court's ruling.

Davis had been moved to the death chamber by Monday afternoon. According to the Arkansas Department of Correction, Davis had a "last meal" of fried chicken, rolls, great northern beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake.

As the wait continued for the SCOTUS decision, witnesses were being put into place shortly before 11:15. At 11:45, there was still no word from the high court.

After the SCOTUS decision was announced, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued this statement:

“It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed. Davis was convicted of his crimes in 1992, and my office took every action it could today to see that justice was carried out. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say and has decided not to lift the stay at this time.

“There are five scheduled executions remaining with nothing preventing them from occurring, but I will continue to respond to any and all legal challenges brought by the prisoners. The families have waited far too long to see justice, and I will continue to make that a priority.”

Governor Asa Hutchinson issued the following statement:

“The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to vacate the Arkansas Supreme Court decision in reference to Don Davis. I am disappointed in this delay for the victim’s family. However, the 8th Circuit decision today overturning Judge Baker’s stay and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling vacating Judge Griffen’s temporary restraining order mean that the courts have once again cleared the state to proceed with carrying out the sentences of the other inmates. While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”

Update:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The execution of an Arkansas Death Row inmate remains a possibility tonight after a day of legal back and forth with court filings and rulings.

While the execution of inmate Bruce Ward is definitely off for tonight, the state is still waiting to hear from the U.S. Supreme Court on its request to have a stay of execution vacated for Don Davis.

Davis had his "last meal" at the Cummins Unit, where the execution chamber is located. 

According to the Arkansas Department of Correction, Davis chose fried chicken, rolls, great northern beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake.

Davis' current execution warrant expires at midnight..

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she would not seek a reversal after the Arkansas Supreme Court's rejected her motion for reconsideration of the stay blocking Death Row Inmate Bruce Ward’s execution.

Update:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled to vacate a temporary restraining order (TRO) granted by a lower court on Friday against the state of Arkansas, which halted the use of one drug in the three-drug lethal injection execution process.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had filed the request before the court when the TRO was issued by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen, halting use of the state's supply of midazolam.

Update:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has ruled that Arkansas's plan to execute seven men over the next 11 days could proceed, however stays of execution granted by the State Supreme Court on Monday do remain in effect.

Update:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A second Arkansas Death Row inmate has been granted a stay of execution by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The high court's decision was announced late Monday afternoon.

Soon after, the Arkansas Attorney General's Office said it was still considering options as to how to proceed.

Update:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled late Monday morning to amend the stay of execution for inmate Bruce Ward, rejecting the state's request for reversal.

Update:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Attorneys for nine Arkansas Death Row inmates have filed an argument with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the state's effort to override U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's Saturday order that halted executions scheduled this month.

The 47-page opposition brief (click here to read) filed at 1:16 a.m. Monday asked for "calm consideration" vs. "rushed analysis," citing the amount of information Judge Baker had to consider before issuing her injunction.

The filing also points out the timing - Easter Sunday and Easter Monday that the state urges the court to review Baker's decision on the cruel and unusual punishment possibility.

According to the brief, Baker's 101-page order came after four days of hearing testimony that was comprised of:

  • Seventeen witnesses whose testimony covered almost 1,300 pages of transcript.
  • The parties introduced over 90 exhibits totaling more than 2,000 pages.
  • The district court’s order contains hundreds of factual findings and multiple conclusions of law.

"At this stage, a more thorough consideration of Plaintiffs’ claims could hardly be imagined," the brief states.

The inmates want the opportunity to fully brief and present oral arguments. If the court feels it needs to make an immediate decision, the brief continues, it should side with District Court that considered all of that evidence and deny the state's motion.

Our content partner the Arkansas Blog (Arkansas Times) adds that the state has argued that Baker didn't adequately consider that her order would put a stop to scheduled executions that carry out lawful sentences. Baker found merit in inmates' arguments about full access to legal counsel during executions and to the potential for cruel and unusual punishment from use of the sedative midazolam. It is used along with a paralytic drug and a killing drug, in the lethal injection process. Arkansas has never used the drug combination before.

The inmates said the state "misstates the standard of review, selectively represents the procedural history and ignores vast swathes of evidence."

Eight inmates were scheduled to be put to death by order of Gov. Asa Hutchinson — two each day between April 17 and April 27. A ninth inmate who is not currently scheduled to be killed joined the suit. Since then, courts have stayed two executions — of Bruce Ward, who was scheduled to die today but who is mentally incompetent, and Jason McGehee, who's been recommended for clemency. The state is trying to get Ward's stay lifted.

It has apparently acceded to a court finding that McGehee's killing would violate state law on a required waiting period after a recommendation for clemency. The clemency process was shortened so as to meet the governor's compressed execution schedule. It was hurried to get the killing done before a supply of one drug, the controversial sedative midazolam, expires at the end of this month. (Arkansas Blog)

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen's order halting use of the state's supply of midazolam because the distributor said it was deceitfully obtained remains in effect. However, McKesson, the distributor, has asked that its suit be dismissed on account of Judge Baker's broader temporary restraining order. That request is expected to be granted today. McKesson has said it wants to reserve the right to refile the suit. It has also asked for its midazolam back, something the state has so far refused to do.

Original story (Sunday):
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The state of Arkansas hit several road blocks on Friday and Saturday in its effort to execute seven death row inmates over a period of 11 days.

The latest issue came Saturday morning when Federal Judge Kristine Baker issued an order halting executions based on Eighth Amendment concerns raised by the inmates and the Arkansas Department of Correction viewing policy for the inmates' attorneys as reasons for her decision.

Judd Deere, spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said the decision was out of step with precedent from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Attorney General's office has appealed to the Eighth Circuit.

This followed Friday's legal developments including a temporary restraining order issued on the drugs used during the executions. Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued the order in response to McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc. filing a request that the court prohibit the use of Vercurium Bromide, one of the three drugs used in the execution protocol in Arkansas. The company said that the state of Arkansas had "gone outside approved channels to obtain midazolam and potassium chloride."

Roughly an hour after Judge Griffen issued the temporary restraining order, he could be found lying on a cot in front of the Governor's Mansion protesting against the planned executions.

On Saturday morning, the Attorney General's office filed an emergency petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court asking that Griffen be removed from the case and his temporary restraining order be lifted.

While those court proceedings affect all scheduled executions, a third legal issue centers around the case of Bruce Ward. The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay in his execution. The high court did not cite any reason for the stay.

Ward was scheduled to be the first inmate killed on Monday. He's on death row for a murder in 1990 where he strangled and killed an 18-year-old girl in the bathroom of a Little Rock convenience store.

The Attorney General's office asked the court to reconsider its decision.

The Arkansas Department of Correction plans to continue preparations for the executions in the event the orders are lifted.  Original plans called for Ward and Don Davis to be killed Monday night.


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