The Arkansas Supreme Court today stayed executions scheduled Wednesday of two Death Row inmates, along with those of seven others, pending resolution of litigation in Pulaski Circuit Court.
The court differed with Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen’s ealrer finding in some respects.
More to come, but here’s the opinion.
UPDATE: The Correction Department had been proceeding with plans for executions Wednesday of Don Davis and Bruce Ward, whose death sentences date to 1992 and 1990.
The Supreme Court said Griffen did not have authority to issue a stay of execution. The prisoners argued his temporary restraining order was an injunction, not a stay. This was just a matter of “semantics,” the court said. It thus granted the states’ request for a writ of certiorari, an extraordinary plea by the state to correct a lower court’s lack of jurisdiction or clear error.
The prisoners are arguing for a hearing on the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol and to get information about the drugs to be used, now secret under state law.
The prisoners asked the Supreme Court for a stay if Griffen’s order was ruled invalid. That request was granted. The court said the prisoners had met the standards of demonstrating a pending constitutional claim that wasn’t frivolous and could not be resolved before the execution date.
The order was a per curiam, or unsigned by an individual justice. But both Chief Justice Howard Brill and Justice Paul Danielson would have denied the state’s request for the writ. In other words, they’d have left Griffen’s order in place. Justice Rhonda Wood said she would have not only granted the writ but also allowed the executions to go forward Wednesday.
Griffen had set a March hearing on the substance of the argument by plaintiffs against the state.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued this statement:
“The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the State’s argument that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to stay the executions; however, the Supreme Court did choose to enter its own order, placing executions on hold pending the outcome of litigation at the lower court. While the Supreme Court’s decision is not about the merits of the case, it is unfortunate that this further delays justice for the victims. I will continue to defend Arkansas’s lethal injection statute and fight for the victims and their grieving families.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was disappointed for the families of victims and said he hoped the case would eventually be expedited.