Grady, Ark. — An Arkansas inmate who was given his last supper Monday evening in anticipation of his execution will awake today for an unexpected breakfast and another day of life.
More than four hours after Arkansas death-row inmate Don William Davis was scheduled to enter the execution chamber at the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Cummins Unit facility in the Delta community of Grady, the U.S. Supreme Court gave him a life-saving reprieve a few minutes before midnight.
Earlier in the day, the Arkansas Supreme Court granted a stay for the death sentences of Davis and fellow inmate Bruce Ward after a flurry of local, state and federal court filings put the execution timetable on hold. Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Justices Courtney Goodson, Josephine Hart and Robin Wynne were in the majority opinion. Justices Karen Baker, Shawn Womack and Rhonda Wood were the three dissenters.
In an associated case on Monday, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the Arkansas Supreme Court’s stay of execution for Davis, but declined to request a similar action in Bruce Ward’s case. Ward’s case had been considered twice by the state’s high court and Rutledge suggested additional factors might come into play with the request, such as mental illness.
At the prison’s media center following the Supreme Court’s near-midnight decision, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s spokesman J.R. Davis said the families of the victims of murders committed by the two condemned men were denied justice after more than 25 years of waiting for the inmates’ executions.
“We got the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that they declined the appeal from the AG’s office. I will tell you right now that tonight the families of the victims are on the governor’s mind as they have been throughout the last couple of months and throughout this entire process. And that’s where I think we need to concentrate tonight,” Davis said.
As the governor’s spokesman began to try to explain how the families of the victims of Davis’ and Ward’s crimes felt Monday night, his voice became emotional as he addressed a roomful of media representatives who had waited at the prison for nearly eight hours before getting the news that the first of seven scheduled executions had been stayed. Davis said after the executions were called off, relatives of the victims were told by Arkansas prison officials and expressed frustration and disappointment.
Ward was convicted of murdering 18-year old convenience store clerk Rebecca Doss in 1989, while Davis was sentenced to death in March 1992 for the October 1990 murder of 62-year old Jane Daniel of Rogers.
“This is 28 years without justice. Tonight, [Ms. Marilyn Doss] was told again that justice wouldn’t come today. And that’s hard for any mother to stomach as you and I can imagine,” Davis said. “Tonight, the justice they were hoping to get, they were denied. This put these families through hell.”
Davis said the clock for both men’s death sentence will now have to be reset for after April 30, when one of the drugs for the state’s execution protocol will expire. However, the other five executions scheduled for April 20 and April 27 will continue as scheduled, he said.
SURREAL ATMOSPHERE SURROUNDS MEDIA COVERAGE
A surreal atmosphere at the state’s maximum security prison in Lincoln County began before 4 p.m. when reporters from as far away as the United Kingdom began arriving for the executions. Altogether, a line of cars, satellite trucks and TV vans more than a half-mile long carried dozens of reporters into the Arkansas prison complex late Monday afternoon.
Although Don Davis’ execution was originally scheduled to start at 7 p.m., once in the prison reporters were told at least four different times that a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court was still pending before the death sentences could either be carried out or stayed. In frequent updates with the media, ADC officials told reporters Davis had fried chicken and mashed potatoes, great northern beans, a roll and strawberry cake for dessert for his supposed last meal.
Shortly after 11 p.m., three media witnesses – John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Sean Murphy of the Associated Press and Bobby Amppezan of Arkansas Public Media – were selected from a pool of more than 50 reporters to serve as Arkansas media witness. They were later driven to the site of the death chamber but never left their cars as the high court’s decision came down.
After news of the postponed executions spread to the news center, prison officials said family members of the murder victims did not wish to speak with reporters. J.R. Davis said Gov. Hutchinson will meet with his staff and state correction officials to discuss how the state will move forward on the execution of Davis and Ward, although he said the clock for setting the executions again would have to be re-set.
FIVE OTHER EXECUTIONS STILL ON SCHEDULE
Despite the uncertainty surrounding Davis’ and Ward’s death sentences, ADC spokesman Solomon Graves reiterated the remaining executions will move forward as scheduled on Thursday (April 20) when Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson will enter the death chamber.
“The Department of Corrections’ attention now shifts to the executions that are scheduled for Thursday,” Graves told reporters. “At this point, there are no stays in place … and we are under the impression and assumption that those executions be carried out as scheduled.”
Graves added: “Our staff has been trained and is ready to carry out these sentences that have been handed down by a jury.”
Those capital punishment dates will be followed by the executions of Marcel Williams and Jack Jones on April 24 and Kenneth Williams on April 27. ADC inmate Jason McGehee was recommended for clemency earlier this month. He was sentenced to death Jan. 8, 1998, for capital murder for kidnapping, torturing and killing 15-year-old John Melbourne Jr. in 1996.
Earlier this year, ADC officials announced the state’s supply of potassium chloride, one of three drugs in a cocktail used in executions, had expired. Last month, state correction officials announced they had obtained a new supply of potassium chloride and would proceed with the seven scheduled executions on Monday, unless there is a stay by state or federal courts.
The high court’s ruling now puts the remainder of the state’s aggressive execution timetable in question. Originally, Gov. Asa Hutchinson set the death sentences of Davis and seven other inmates from April 17 to 27. In response to questions from reporters about the state’s aggressive execution timetable, Davis said the governor and state correction officials were “boxed in” by legal wrangling and difficulty in procuring the drugs needed to carry out the state’s three-drug execution protocol.
“That’s why we are here. The governor sees his responsibility … to carry out the law of our state,” Hutchinson’s spokesman said. “And the law of our state is capital punishment.”
In Arkansas’ lethal injection process, the three drugs that are used include midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The state’s supply of midazolam expires April 30. In the first step of the execution process, the drug is used to cause a death row inmate to fall asleep during his/her execution.
Vecuronium bromide is used to relax muscles during surgery. It can also be used by those on a ventilation machine. On the executioner’s gurney, it relaxes their muscles and helps in the sedation process. Potassium chloride is a supplement used to treat low levels of potassium in the blood.
Graves said ADC’s supply of midazolam remains unchanged ahead of the drug’s April 30 expiration date. He said he was unaware of any plans to acquire additional supplies of the controversial drug for future executions.