State vows to get executions back on track
ACLU filed suit Thursday
Arkansas officials vowed to keep the state’s remaining five executions on track after Monday came and went without either of the two scheduled executions taking place.
“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,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
The next two executions under the 11-day timetable are scheduled for Thursday, with the state in a race against the clock to carry out the executions before one of three lethalinjection drugs used in the protocol expires April 30.
Slated for execution on Thursday are Ledell Lee, 51, and Stacey Johnson, 48, both found guilty of murders committed in 1993.
Attorneys with the ACLU filed an appeal Tuesday on behalf of Lee, arguing that he has suffered from incompetent counsel and calling for DNA testing on hair and blood evidence.
Bruce Ward and Don Davis, both convicted murderers, won stays of execution from the Arkansas Supreme Court hours before they were slated to be put to death Monday evening.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito denied without explanation the state’s request to overturn the stay of execution for Davis shortly before midnight Monday.
Davis, 52, already had received his last meal and was awaiting execution in a holding cell at the Cummins prison unit near Pine Bluff when word of Justice Alito’s decision arrived at about 11:45 p.m. Monday, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Ward, 61, was never moved to the holding facility after the state declined to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This process puts the families through hell,” J.R. Davis, spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, told reporters after the Supreme Court decision was announced.
Mr. Hutchinson said he was “disappointed in this delay for the victim’s family,” but noted that the state had been successful in its efforts to vacate two court orders blocking the slate of executions scheduled to conclude April 27.
“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,” the Republican governor said.
Ward was found guilty in the 1989 strangulation death of 18-year-old Rebecca Doss as she worked the night shift at a convenience store in Little Rock.
Davis was convicted of the 1990 murder of Jane Daniel, 62, during a burglary at her home in Rogers in what has been described as an execution-style slaying.
The state has been unable to obtain additional supplies of midazolam, the sedative used in the three-drug protocol, with pharmaceutical manufacturers increasingly unwilling to provide drugs to be used for executions.
“It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed,” said Mr. Hutchinson. “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.”
The attorney for the inmates won stays of execution after asking for a delay to await the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case on whether defendants are entitled to a mental-health evaluation independent of the prosecution.
The court is scheduled to hear oral argument in the case, McWilliams v. Dunn, on Monday.
Scott Braden, the assistant federal public defender representing Ward and Davis, said late Monday that the men “were denied access to independent mental health experts, even though they clearly demonstrated that mental health issues would be significant factors at their trials.”
“Mr. Ward has severe and life-long schizophrenia, breaks with reality, and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed since childhood,” said Mr. Braden in a statement to the Arkansas Times. “Mr. Davis has organic brain damage, intellectual disability, a history of head injuries, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other severe mental health conditions.”
Mr. Hutchinson had scheduled eight executions to take place between April 17-27, which would have been the most in an 11-day period carried out by any state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.