Monday's Arkansas execution halted by state justices

VARNER, Ark. — Hours before the state hoped to carry out its first execution in more than a decade, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday moved to block the inmate from being put to death.

The decision was a significant setback for the state of Arkansas, which had sought to execute eight men this month, before its stock of a lethal injection drug expires.

The Supreme Court announced its 4-3 decision as state officials and reporters gathered at the Cummins Unit for the execution of Don W. Davis, who was convicted more than a quarter-century ago for a murder in northwest Arkansas.

The executions of Davis and the other prisoners had already been stayed by a federal judge who was concerned about Arkansas' reliance on a particular injection drug. Not long after the state Supreme Court's decision, however, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in St. Louis, reversed the federal judge's order, removing that obstacle to the executions from proceeding.

The reprieve from Little Rock was subject to appeal, but defense lawyers said it lowered the odds that anyone would be put to death on Monday night. The state court ruling did not immediately affect the five other executions the Arkansas authorities hope to carry out by April 27.

A spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction said, however, that the state was proceeding with the expectation that the execution would take place Monday night if the legal disputes were resolved.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that the state had "asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the Arkansas Supreme Court" and hoped to get a decision within hours.

The argument that prompted Monday's stay focused on a matter entirely different from the constitutional questions that have swirled around the state's execution procedures. Instead, the Arkansas justices considered whether Davis should be put to death while the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case about whether poor defendants with mental health problems are entitled to expert witnesses to assist them in preparing and presenting their cases.

The ruling also applied to Bruce Ward, an Arkansas prisoner whose execution, originally scheduled for Monday, was already the subject of a stay.


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