The Arkansas Supreme Court today stayed the execution of Bruce Ward.
It did so without explanation, but his attorneys had requested a stay based on mental disability. They said under court precedent he was incompetent to be executed.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has granted Inmate Bruce Ward’s request for a stay of his execution.
The state had objected to the request. Said a prepared statement from the office of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge:
“Bruce Ward was convicted of capital murder in 1990 and the State Supreme Court has previously upheld his conviction. The Court granted a stay of Ward’s scheduled execution today but offered no reason for doing so. Attorney General Rutledge is evaluating options on how to proceed.”
Ward’s attorney, Scott Braden, an assistant federal public defender, issued this statement:
“We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about his sanity. He deserves a day in court for that, but in Arkansas the rules do not permit that. Instead, they give the power to director of the department of corrections to decide whether the department can execute someone or not. That is both unfair and unconstitutional.
“The United States Supreme Court requires that a death row prisoner be competent for execution, that is, have a rational understanding of the punishment he is about to suffer and the reason why he is to suffer it. (Ford v. Wainwright and Panetti v. Quarterman). Mr. Ward’s severe and life long schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard: he has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it. In fact, he does not believe he will ever be executed and believes he will walk out of prison a free man to great acclaim and riches. His nearly three decades in solitary confinement have only worsened his severe mental illness.”
Ward, 61, was sentenced to die in Pulaski County in 1990. He’s been described as having severe schizophrenia and having delusions. His lawsuit seeking to stop the execution quoted medical authorities as saying his prolonged incarceration in isolation had contributed to his condition.
Ward was convicted of the 1989 slaying of Rebecca Doss, 18, a convenience store clerk working on overnight shift. A passing police officer who could not see a clerk inside stopped to check the store and stopped Ward after seeing him walk away from restrooms.
His request for a stay was denied in circuit court and I reported this morning that the Supreme Court had rejected the record of the case and granted him an emergency review. Justice Rhonda Wood at that time wouldn’t have granted a stay.
The stay reduces the number facing execution between April 17 and 27 to six, with only Don Davis facing execution on Monday.
The Supreme Court order was one sentence, saying an emergency stay was granted. It was unsigned by justices. There was no mention of any dissent the seven-member court.
ALSO TODAY: The Correction Department amended its rules for press coverage of the execution to allow reporters to bring laptop computers with a mobile hot spot to communicate outside, but no telephones. Only two telephones will be available in the media center for what is expected to be a good-sized crowd of reporters from Arkansas and around the world.
We still await word from federal court, where Judge Kristine Baker and her staff were working into the night on a separate case to stop all the executions. Eight had been scheduled, but federal Judge Price Marshall temporarily delayed one to an unknown time in the case of Jason McGehee, who was recommended for clemency by the state Parole Board. That recommendation triggered a statutory 30-day review period that couldn’t have been completed before he was executed had the judge not issued a stay.