Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the U.S. Supreme Court scuttled the state's plan to resume capital punishment for the first time in nearly 12 years with a ruling issued minutes before a condemned man was scheduled to die.
The court's decision was the second time Don Davis had been granted a reprieve shortly before execution — he was within hours of death in 2010. It capped a chaotic day of legal wrangling in state and federal courts to clear the primary obstacles Arkansas faced 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 hours earlier, and witnesses were being moved toward the execution chamber when the Supreme Court ruled just minutes before Davis' 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-caliber revolver he found there.
Gov. 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 Monday but Ward received a stay of execution and the state did not appeal the decision. The state did challenge a stay granted to Davis but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reverse it.
Despite the setbacks, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas would press ahead with the other planned executions, including two set for Thursday night — 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," Rutledge said.
Lawyers for the inmates were not immediately available after the U.S. Supreme court ruling.
Earlier in the day, the state had cleared two of the main obstacles to resuming executions. The 8th U.S. 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 favor of lifting the stay. Monday marked the first day that the U.S. Supreme Court was in session with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.
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 U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state scheduled such a compressed schedule because of the expiration 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.