Supreme Court halts execution minutes before death warrant expired

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Supreme Court halts execution minutes before death warrant expired

Don Davis was set to die Monday night by lethal injection.

This marks the sixth time Davis has had his execution postponed.

However, the State Supreme Court went a different direction and ruled that the execution of Don Davis and Bruce Ward could not proceed based upon the potential of some future direction of the U.S. Supreme Court that is unknown at the present time. The state decided not to challenge the stay for Ward.

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". They've argued that Ward has a lifelong history of severe mental illness and that Davis has an IQ in the range of intellectual disability. But prosecutors surmounted a major roadblock earlier Monday when the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court judge's ruling to stay all of the executions. Oral arguments for that case aren't expected until April 24 and will discuss what rights inmates are allowed for an independent expert to assess their health.

The timing is important, because the state's stash of lethal drugs is set to expire at the end of April. That order had effectively blocked the executions of eight inmates by the end of April. The state asked the court to reconsider the stay, which the court declined to do Monday evening. Griffen, who served 12 years on the state appeals court, previously battled with the judicial discipline panel over remarks he made criticizing President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. A medical supply company said it was misled by the state and that the drug was sold for medical purposes, not executions.

Current status: Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that stops Arkansas from using vecuronium bromide to kill prisoners.

The drug raised concerns after it was used in executions in three U.S. states in 2014 that took longer than usual.

While lethal injection was meant to be painless, death-penalty opponents say the risk of badly botched executions, with inmates writhing in agony for long minutes, is unacceptably high. They include a post days before his ruling that criticized the execution push in Arkansas.

"It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed", Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement.

Rutledge was quick to respond to the Monday night decision. He asked to keep the victims' families in mind following the ruling.

The Arkansas Supreme Court is barring a judge from future death penalty cases for participating in an anti-death penalty protest where he appeared to mimic an inmate strapped to a gurney.

The only option for inmates now is to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court as part of the continuing process. Despite the secrecy measure, prison officials have said it will be very hard to find a supplier willing to sell Arkansas midazolam after its current stock expires.

"Since learning that Defendant Hutchinson had scheduled his execution for April 17, 2017, Mr. Ward has remained steadfast in his belief that he will walk out of prison", they said in a filing.

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