Arkansas Vows To Keep Pushing For Executions Despite Setback

Apr 18, 2017

Arkansas State Troopers secure the entrance to the Cummins Prison unit at Varner Monday evening.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

While legal challenges kept two lethal injections from being carried out as scheduled Monday night, Arkansas officials are vowing to execute five other convicted killers before the end of the month. The state hasn’t executed an inmate in 12 years and there were hopes that Monday would see the resumption of capital punishment before the state’s supply of one lethal injection drug expires next month.

The case of Don Davis went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to lift a stay that had been issued earlier in the day by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The inmate had been given what he was told would be his last meal earlier in the evening. At about 11 p.m. media witnesses were selected and taken to near the death chamber at Cummins Prison in anticipation of an announcement from the nation’s high court. But shortly before midnight, officials said the full court had declined a request by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to vacate the stay.

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Governor Asa Hutchinson, speaks to reporters late Monday at Cummins Prison.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Governor Asa Hutchinson, told reporters gathered inside the prison that justice had been denied.

"There has been a lot of talk about the inmates. I would encourage you to remember the victims throughout this process and their families who’ve had to go through this nightmare for 20, 25, 30 years, and tonight the justice they were hoping to get, they will once again not."

The other inmate who had been scheduled to die was Bruce Ward, but earlier in the day Rutledge’s office declined to request that his stay be lifted, pending an appeal regarding his mental capabilities.

Ward was convicted of killing 18-year old convenience store clerk Rebecca Doss in 1989, while Davis admitted killing 62-year old Jane Daniel in 1990.

There has been a flurry of court filings, hearings and rulings in state and federal courts in recent weeks, but right now officials say there are no legal obstacles stopping the remaining five executions set to take place by the end of next week.

Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves talks with a reporter Monday at Cummins Prison.
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

"The Department of Correction’s attention now shifts to the executions that are scheduled for Thursday," said spokesman Solomon Graves. "At this point there are no stays in place for either Stacey Johnson or Ledell Lee and we are under the impression and under the assumption that those executions will be carried out as scheduled."

But Monday evening the American Civil Liberties Union announced it was now representing Lee and requested DNA testing of blood and hair evidence taken from the crime scene that it says was never tested.

In a statement, the ACLU said:

Mr. Lee has always maintained his innocence in the death of Debra Reese. On April 17, 2017, Mr. Ledell Lee filed a Motion For Post-Conviction DNA Testing in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County, Arkansas seeking DNA testing of forensic evidence used by the prosecution at his trial in 1995. The prosecution relied upon hairs found at the scene and two tiny pinpoints of material on the shoes of Mr. Lee which the prosecution contended was human blood. Fingerprints found at the scene did not match Mr. Lee.

A hearing was scheduled for Lee at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court in Little Rock.