VARNER, Ark. — The U.S. Supreme Court spared the life of an Arkansas inmate minutes before his death warrant was set to expire Monday, scuttling efforts to resume the death penalty after nearly 12 years in the state with a plan to carry out four double executions before its supply of a lethal injection drug expires.
The court’s decision to maintain the stay for Don Davis 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. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had set the multiple executions, said the state would to continue to push for the other lethal injections to be carried out. Two inmates are set to be put to death on Thursday.
“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,” Hutchinson said in a statement.
The legal fighting had centered on a series of planned lethal injections that, if carried out, would mark 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 the executions to take place before its supply of midazolam, a lethal injection drug, expires at the end of April.
The state was rushing to win approval to execute Davis before his death warrant expired at midnight. Davis and Bruce Ward were set to be executed Monday night and had been granted stays by the state Supreme Court. The state decided not to challenge the stay for Ward.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling came hours after 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 ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen preventing the state from using another lethal injection drug that a supplier said was sold to be used for medical purposes, not for executions.
Davis was sentenced to death for the 1990 death of Jane Daniel in Rogers. The woman was killed in her home after Davis broke in and shot her with a .44-caliber revolver he found there. Davis came within six hours of execution in 2010 before he was spared by the state Supreme Court.
“It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. “Davis was convicted of his crimes in 1992, and my office took every action it could today to see that justice was carried out.”
Earlier, the high court reassigned Judge Griffen’s death-penalty cases after he was photographed at an anti-death penalty rally, lying down on a cot to apparently mimic an inmate’s execution.
DeMillo reported from Little Rock. Associated Press writers Jill Bleed in Little Rock and Kelly P. Kissel in Varner contributed to this report.