Federal Appeals Court Vacates Stay Of Arkansas Executions, State Court Stay Remains For Two

Apr 17, 2017

Cummins Prison in Lincoln County will be the site of executions in Arkansas.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed several executions scheduled over the next ten days in Arkansas to proceed. The order by the three judge panel* lifts the stay by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker that was issued over the weekend.

However, a stay granted by the Arkansas Supreme Court  blocking the Monday night executions of Don Davis and Bruce Ward remains in place.

The 8th Circuit ruling on Monday could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The federal appeals court ruling means that scheduled for Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson on Thursday, April 20 could proceed. Other executions are scheduled for next Monday, April 24 and Thursday, April 27.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, meanwhile, says she is pursuing an appeal of the stay of Davis' and Ward's executions .

7:22pm UPDATE: Rutledge says she has filed an application to vacate the stay of execution for Don Davis, leaving Ward's execution blocked. 

Lawyers for Davis and Ward argue the two did not have adequate access to independent mental health experts at trial. The lawyers say a U.S. Supreme Court case originating in Alabama that deals with being entitled to such expertise would have implications for their cases. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Alabama case on April 24.

Davis, 54, was convicted  of killing Jane Daniel in Rogers in 1990 . His death warrant expires at midnight Monday. 

4/18/17 UPDATE: At approximately 11:45pm, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to vacate Davis' execution stay, but state leaders vow to press on in carrying out other scheduled executions.

On Monday afternoon, Gov. Asa Hutchinson released the following statement in response to the federal appeals ruling:

“Once again last minute court rulings have changed the course of justice. Today, the 8th Circuit ruled the state could proceed with the death penalty sentence and expressed no concern over the execution schedule and the legislatively mandated means to carry out the lethal injection protocol.  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.

“This decision was not unanimous and the dissenting opinions reflect the harm the delays cause the families of the victims and it also expresses my frustration in the continued delayed justice. We have asked the US Supreme Court to overrule the Arkansas Supreme Court and hope to get a decision later tonight.”

This post was updated at 10:29am on 4/19/17.

*Correction: An original version of this article said the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals consisted of a three judge panel. It actually consists of nine justices, although only eight ruled in the executions case in a 7-1 decision.