Sunday 21 January 2018

Arkansas to press ahead with executions despite US Supreme Court setback

A protest against Arkansas' planned executions outside the state Capitol building in Little Rock (AP)
A protest against Arkansas' planned executions outside the state Capitol building in Little Rock (AP)

Arkansas officials have vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the US Supreme Court spare an inmate just minutes before his death warrant was set to expire.

The ruling was a setback to the state's plan to resume capital punishment for the first time in nearly 12 years.

The court's decision was the second time Don Davis had been granted a reprieve shortly before execution - he came within hours of death in 2010.

It capped a chaotic day of legal wrangling in state and federal courts on Monday as Arkansas tried to clear obstacles to carrying out its first executions since 2005.

Davis had already been served a last meal of fried chicken, rolls, beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake, and witnesses were being moved towards the execution chamber when the US Supreme Court ruling came just minutes before Davis's death warrant expired at midnight.

Davis was sentenced to death for the 1990 death of Jane Daniel in Rogers, Arkansas. The woman was killed in her home after Davis broke in and shot her with a .44-calibre revolver he found there.

Governor Asa Hutchinson had set an aggressive schedule of as many as eight executions by the end of April, when the state's supply of a key lethal injection drug expires.

Davis and Bruce Ward were supposed to be the first two of those on Monday but Ward received a stay of execution and the state did not appeal against the decision.

The state did challenge a stay granted to Davis but the last-minute US Supreme Court ruling ensured he would not enter the death chamber on Monday.

Despite the setbacks, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas would press ahead with other planned executions, including two set for Thursday - Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson.

"There are five scheduled executions remaining with nothing preventing them from occurring, but I will continue to respond to any and all legal challenges brought by the prisoners," Mr Rutledge said.

Lawyers for the inmates were not immediately available after the US Supreme Court ruling.

Earlier in the day, the state had cleared two of the main obstacles to resuming executions.

The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal judge's ruling blocking the executions over the use of midazolam, a sedative used in flawed executions in other states.

The state Supreme Court also lifted a lower court ruling preventing the state from using another lethal injection drug that a supplier said was sold to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

The high court's order sparing Davis offered no explanation, but none of the justices voted in favour of lifting the stay. Monday marked the first day that the US Supreme Court was in session with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

Mr Hutchinson's original schedule of eight lethal injections in 11 days would have marked the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state scheduled such a compressed schedule because of the expiry of its supply of midazolam.

Arkansas enacted a law two years ago keeping secret the source of its lethal injection drugs, a move officials said was necessary to find new supplies. Despite the secrecy measure, prison officials have said it will be very difficult to find a supplier willing to sell Arkansas midazolam after its current stock expires.


Press Association

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