Two Arkansas Executions Called Off, but Five Stay Scheduled

Courts on Monday blocked two executions in an eight-inmate, 10-day flurry of executions planned by the governor.

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Catholics in Arkansas and around the country continue to pray for death-row inmates in the state, after courts on Monday blocked two executions in an eight-inmate, 10-day flurry of executions planned by the governor.

“#SCOTUS upheld stays of execution last night in #Arkansas. But other 5 scheduled this week could still happen,” the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which works to end capital punishment, tweeted April 18.

Several courts handed down multiple decisions on Monday and early Tuesday morning, in a complex drama playing out as Arkansas seeks to execute eight men before its supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the lethal-injection process, expires at the end of the month.

One inmate, Jason McGehee, had already been granted a temporary stay last week after a parole board recommended clemency. McGehee was convicted of the 1996 killing of John Melbourne, Jr.

Don Davis and Bruce Ward were both scheduled to be executed April 17, but the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed their executions.

Davis was convicted of the 1992 killing of Jane Daniel, and Ward was convicted of the 1989 killing of Rebecca Doss.

The men are claimed to have mental-health problems, and the U.S. Supreme Court is due to hear oral arguments next week in a case involving a defendant’s right to access independent mental-health experts during trial. The Arkansas Supreme Court granted the stays in light of the pending federal case.

Arkansas appealed the stay on Davis, but did not pursue Ward’s case.

In the early hours of April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Arkansas’ application to vacate the stay on Davis’ execution.

Neither of the men were put to death.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court also made two decisions relating to Pulaski County circuit Judge Wendell Griffin and his decisions.

Griffin had on April 14 ruled that the state’s supply of vecuronium bromide, an anesthetic which induces paralysis and which is the second of the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol, could not be used in the process.

The drug supplier, McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc., had stated that the drug manufacturer prohibits vecuronium for use in executions and that Arkansas had purchased it under false pretenses. McKesson discovered that the drug was to be used for executions and demanded the state return the drug, promising a refund. The supplier said it refunded the state, which never returned the drug.

However, Griffin also attended a protest against capital punishment outside the governor’s mansion on Friday.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court forbade Griffin from hearing death penalty-related cases and referred him to the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to discover if he violated a state code of judicial conduct.

It also vacated Griffin’s restraining order against the state’s use of vecuronium bromide.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated April 17 a federal judge’s preliminary stay of executions that had been handed down April 15.

Federal Judge Kristine Baker had ruled that the use of midazolam, a sedative, may violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

The sedative has been used in botched executions, and some medical experts have claimed it is not proven to be effective, thus exposing an inmate to the risk of severe pain as the other drugs are administered.

The eighth circuit appeals court rejected Baker’s determination that the executions should be delayed to give courts time to consider whether the use of midazolam is a breach of the Eighth Amendment. The appellate judges wrote that “the equivocal evidence recited by the district court falls short of demonstrating a significant possibility that the prisoners will show that the Arkansas protocol is ‘sure or very likely’ to cause severe pain and needless suffering.”

One appellate judge dissented from the eighth circuit’s decision.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reverse the stay on Davis’ execution, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, stated: “I am disappointed in this delay for the victim’s family. While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last-minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”

McKesson filed a complaint April 18 in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking a restraining order and injunction to prevent the vecuronium it supplied from being used “for something other than a legitimate medical purpose.” The case has been assigned to Pulaski County circuit Judge Alice Gray.

In another case, Baker canceled an April 18 hearing in which the lawyers for Marcel Williams, who is scheduled to be executed April 24, intended to argue that because of his obesity, Arkansas’ lethal injection protocol is not likely to kill him and could cause organ damage. Williams was convicted of the 1994 killing of Stacy Errickson.

Baker cited the Eighth Circuit’s reversal of her earlier stay in her decision to cancel the hearing.

Both Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, have spoken out against the planned executions.

Arkansas’ next executions are scheduled to be held the evening of April 20.