The Arkansas Supreme Court has blocked the executions of the two men who were scheduled to be put to death tonight.
The Court granted a stay to Bruce Ward on Friday without explanation. Today, it granted a stay to Don Davis, also without explanation.
Justices Karen Baker, Shawn Womack and Rhonda Wood dissented in each decision to stay.
Attorneys for Davis and Ward had asked the state Supreme Court to stop the executions until the U.S. Supreme Court can decide a case over adequate consideration of the mental state of people sentenced to death.
The U.S. Supreme Court is to hear an Alabama case April 24. The question is whether an indigent defendant had adequate access to experts to develop a defense based on mental health. An evaluation of a defendant’s competency by an expert shared by prosecution and defense is inadequate, the defense argues.
Ward’s attorneys have said he suffers from severe and life long schizophrenia and delusions. Davis has an IQ low enough to approach disability, plus ADHD and psychoactive substance abuse disorders, according to a news release on his original court filing.
The executions were already on hold thanks to federal Judge Kristine Baker’s preliminary injunction, currently on appeal at the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. UPDATE: No longer.
The state could appeal the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court, but a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she is “considering options as to how to proceed.” UPDATE: She said she would file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a statement, a spokesman for Rutledge said she would not as the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the state Court’s stay of Ward’s execution:
Earlier this evening, the AR Supreme Court rejected the Attorney General’s motion for reconsideration of the stay blocking Bruce Ward’s execution. In light of this and the 2nd stay from the AR Supreme Court handed down this afternoon, the Attorney General has elected not to appeal Ward’s stay to the U.S. Supreme Court at this time.
From the response:
It is remarkably ironic that the State of Arkansas seeks to deprive its highest court of jurisdiction in a pending case in which no actual decision has been reached. More to the point, this Court does not have jurisdiction to take such action, because there is no final judgment for it to review. And even if this Court did have jurisdiction, it should not exercise it, for no error was committed by the state high court.
[T]he majority, in a 4-3 decision, is granting relief to the two individuals who were convicted of murdering Rebecca Lynn Doss and Jane T. Daniel. The petitioners had their day in court, the jury spoke, and decades of appeals have occurred. The families are entitled to closure and finality of the law. It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the Supreme Court might change the law. This court has a duty to apply the laws of Arkansas as they exist today. While the Supreme Court could certainly change the law on any given day, that does not mean we can ignore our responsibility and refuse to perform our duty. Today, justice has been denied by the majority.
Here’s a statement from Scott Braden, assistant federal public defender:
“There will be no executions tonight. We are deeply grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued stays of execution for Bruce Ward and Don Davis on the basis of proceedings commenced in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending case, McWilliams v. Dunn, which presents the precise question also at issue in Mr. Ward’s and Mr. Davis’s cases.
“The question in McWilliams is whether the Court’s 1985 ruling in Ake v. Oklahoma clearly established that an indigent defendant is entitled to meaningful assistance from an expert who is independent of the prosecution. As the Brief for the Petitioner in McWilliams states: ‘[t]he prosecution and defense can no more share the same expert than they can share the same lawyer.’ The Court will hold oral argument in McWilliams on April 24.
“Like Mr. McWilliams, Mr. Ward and Mr. Davis were denied access to independent mental health experts, even though they clearly demonstrated that mental health issues would be significant factors at their trials. Mr. Ward has severe and life-long schizophrenia, breaks with reality, and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed since childhood. Mr. Davis has organic brain damage, intellectual disability, a history of head injuries, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other severe mental health conditions.
“Both Mr. Ward and Mr. Davis were denied independent mental health experts to help their defense attorneys investigate, understand, and present these critical mental health issues to the jury. The Arkansas Supreme Court recognized that executing either man, before the Court answers this question for Mr. McWilliams, would be profoundly arbitrary and unjust.”