LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court issued an order Monday morning maintaining a stay of execution for an inmate who at one time was scheduled to be put to death Monday night.
The order came as Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office fought in several different courts for last-minute reversal of various orders so the state could revive plans to carry out a series of executions beginning Monday night.
The state’s highest court initially stayed the execution of Bruce Earl Ward in an order issued Friday. On Monday, the court vacated its previous order but replaced it with one that again granted a stay of execution to allow further evaluation of Ward’s competence.
Ward’s attorneys say he is severely mentally ill and is not competent to understand the punishment he is to receive.
Neither of the court’s orders included an explanation. Friday’s order gave no indication of dissent, but in Monday’s order the court noted that Justices Karen Baker, Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack would not have granted a stay of execution.
Ward, 60, was scheduled to die Monday night for the 1990 strangulation of 18-year-old Little Rock convenience store clerk Rebecca Lynn Doss.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson initially scheduled eight executions between Monday and April 27, with double executions to be conducted on four different nights, but all of the executions were put on hold by recent court rulings.
The state is seeking to execute the inmates before its supply of the sedative midazolam expires at the end of the month.
The first inmate whose execution was halted was Jason McGehee, who received a stay from a federal judge in Little Rock on April 6 after the state Parole Board recommended he receive executive clemency.
A Pulaski County circuit judge stayed the other seven executions Friday, pending resolution of claims by medical supply company McKesson Medical-Surgical that the state improperly obtained drugs for the execution.
On Saturday, a different federal judge in Little Rock granted a stay of all of the planned executions pending resolution of claims by the inmates that the state’s plan for executing them would violate their constitutional rights, including their right not to receive cruel and unusual punishment.
The inmates claim midazolam would not render them unconscious and unable to feel pain before other drugs intended to stop their lungs and heart are administered. State officials disagree and have testified in court that they chose to obtain midazolam because the makers of other sedatives have refused to sell their products for use in executions.
McKesson Medical-Surgical moved for dismissal of its suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Saturday. The company asked for the suit to be dismissed without prejudice, which would leave it free to file the suit again if the federal judge’s order halting all of the executions is lifted.
On Sunday, a federal judge in Fayetteville ruled in the state’s favor and denied a motion for a separate stay of execution for Don William Davis. Davis has been set to die on the same night as Ward before the issuance of the orders Friday and Saturday halting all of the executions.
Davis, 54, has been sentenced to die for the 1990 shooting of 62-year-old Jane Daniel of Rogers during a robbery at her home.
Other inmates the state is seeking to execute this month are Stacey Eugene Johnson, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Ledell Lee and Jack Harold Jones.
Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining execution drugs.