Speed Reads

death penalty

U.S. Supreme Court blocks first of 8 planned Arkansas executions in 11 days

On Monday night, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift a stay from the Arkansas Supreme Court that was preventing the state from carrying out its first execution since 2005. The move by the U.S. high court effectively quashed the push by Arkansas to execute eight death row inmates, two at a time, by the end of April, when its supply of the sedative midazolam, one of the drugs in its lethal-injection cocktail, expires.

In a dramatic and chaotic series of rulings on Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the scheduled executions of Don Davis, 55, and Bruce Ward, 60, both convicted of murder during what appear to be robberies, after their lawyers raised questions about their mental competency. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the stay on Davis, whose execution order expired at midnight.

The Arkansas high court also removed a barrier to all eight executions on Monday, however, overruling a county judge, Wendell Griffen, who had prohibited the state to use another of the lethal injection drugs, vecuronium bromide, because the medical supply company said Arkansas lied about its intended use. The Arkansas Supreme Court reassigned Judge Griffen's death penalty cases after he was photographed at an anti-death penalty rally. Separately on Monday, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals had lifted a stay on all eight executions, overriding a federal judge who had raised concerns about the use of midazolam, used in several previous botched executions.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said he was disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court didn't allow Davis' execution, but praised the other rulings on Monday. Rutledge said the rest of the executions will continue, since there's "nothing preventing them from occurring." Two inmates are scheduled to be executed on Thursday, two more on April 24, and the last two on April 27.