Arkansas Pushes To Carry Out Executions, Fighting Court Rulings And The Clock

Posted April 18, 2017

(Sherry Simon via AP).

Griffen, a Pulaski County circuit judge, said he's morally opposed to the death penalty and that his personal beliefs alone shouldn't disqualify him from taking up certain cases. Crowds gather at a rally opposing Arkansas' upcoming executions, which are set to begin next week, on the front steps of the Capitol Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

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The state's director of the department of corrections, Wendy Kelly, disputed the charge in testimony on Thursday.

The Department of Corrections in Arkansas is gearing up to put at least one man to death on Monday night despite a number of legal hurdles that stand in the way of the state's planned executions.

VARNER, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court halted the executions of two men originally scheduled to be put to death Monday night, putting another legal roadblock in place in the state's plan to conduct eight lethal injections before its supply of a key drug expires at the end of April.

In a split decision, the state's highest court halted the executions of convicted murderers Don Davis and Bruce Ward, who have spent over 20 years each on death row.

A divided Arkansas Supreme Court granted stays of executions for two Arkansas inmates while the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a separate case next week concerning access to independent mental health experts by defendants.

This 2010 photo provided by the U.S District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas shows U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.

"Their guilt - and the justice of their sentences - is beyond dispute", Arkansas officials wrote in a federal court filing late Saturday.

"I understand how hard this is on the victims' families, and my heart goes out to them as they once again deal with the continued court review; however, the last minute court reviews are all part of the hard process of death penalty cases", he said in a statement Saturday. 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. In a victory for the state Sunday, a federal judge in western Arkansas denied a stay request by Davis.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office said she would appeal the state ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. This sedative is expiring at the end of April, Arkansas officials say, necessitating the state's timetable.

Arkansas says it can not find a new drug supply if the executions are delayed.

Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution. A federal judge has also stayed the executions on different grounds, and the state has appealed that ruling. 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.

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"The Attorney General is considering options as to how to proceed", Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said in a statement.

LITTLE ROCK - Lawyers for inmates facing a series of double executions in Arkansas say a federal appeals court should schedule oral arguments as it considers whether to dissolve or preserve the execution stays imposed by a lower court judge. Griffen participated in an anti-death penalty demonstration after issuing the ruling Friday.

At a federal court hearing last week, prison officials testified that they have no new source for the sedative, which is meant to mask the effects of drugs that will shut down the inmates' lungs and hearts. In a 101-page opinion, she wrote that the midazolam could be unconstitutional, as it might allow for cruel and unusual punishment.