Stay of execution granted for Bruce Ward
Little Rock —
One of the seven planned executions of Arkansas death row inmates was halted by the Arkansas Supreme Court, who gave no reason for granting the emergency stay. U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker has been asked to delay all seven executions, and it is uncertain when she will issue a ruling.
Attorneys for Bruce Ward, set to be executed Monday, filed Thursday a request for an emergency stay with the court on the grounds he is incompetent. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge argued against the stay in a 12-page response filed Friday.
Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere provided the media this statement after Ward was granted the stay: “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.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on March 6 set execution dates over an 11-day period starting April 17 and ending April 27.
• April 17: Don Davis, Bruce Ward;
• April 20: Stacey Johnson, Ledelle Lee;
• April 24: Marcel Williams, Jack Jones; and
• April 27: Jason McGehee, Kenneth Williams.
However, the State Parole Board on April 4 recommended the governor grant clemency to one of the condemned, Jason McGehee. On April 6, U.S. District Court Judge D. Price Marshall ruled in federal court that there must be at least a 30-day period before the Parole Board makes that recommendation. That would place McGehee’s execution past April 30, when the state’s supply of midazolam, one of three drugs used in its executions, expires.
A lawsuit now being considered by Judge Baker was filed March 27 on behalf of the then eight inmates to be executed. The motion asked the federal court for a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from executing the prisoners on the appointed dates between April 17 and April 27 “so that the court may adequately consider their claims on the merits.”
“For the reasons stated in the accompanying brief, plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits and will suffer the irreparable harm of death if preliminary relief is not granted,” the court filing stated. “The balance of the equities favors plaintiffs in this matter. And it is in the public interest for the Court to put a halt to the State’s regressive, antiquated execution schedule.”
Gov. Hutchinson on Thursday continued to stress the need to move ahead with the executions, saying the men committed heinous crimes and the victims’ families needed closure.
“So those are facts we should remember, but also the history of how this began. It did not begin when I became governor, and it did not begin when I set the execution dates. It began nearly 25 years ago in most of these cases,” Hutchinson said after reading the accounts of each murder. “The victims’ families need closure.” (Link here and here for more detail about the crimes for which the inmates were convicted.)
The case took a different turn late Thursday when two drug companies filed an amicus brief alleging that state officials may have obtained two of the three lethal injection drugs from “an unauthorized seller.” The director of the state’s corrections department says the drugs were “donated” to the state but she did not disclose the source.
Fresenius Kabi, a Lake Zurich, Ill.-based company that produces drugs and medical devices, and Eatontown, N.J.-based West-Ward filed Thursday an amicus brief in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the inmates. The filing includes images of two redacted product labels the drug makers allege accompany their drugs and are in the state’s possession for use in the injections.
“The Manufacturers have knowledge, experience, and perspective that go beyond that of the parties in this case. They manufacture lifesaving medicines. But the State of Arkansas appears to be about to use some of those medicines to end life rather than save it. This is so despite the Manufacturers’ implementation of distribution protocols to prevent this and the public-health risk that could result from use of these medicines for capital punishment,” noted the filing.
Judge Baker allowed the amicus brief, but noted that arguments raised in the brief may not be considered in the eventual ruling.