“The application to vacate the stay of execution of sentence of death entered by the Arkansas Supreme Court on April 17, 2017, presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied.”
With that simple statement – issued just a few minutes before midnight – from the U.S. Supreme Court, the execution of Arkansas death row inmate Don Davis was delayed.
The decision from the nation’s highest court did not include commentary with the decision.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on March 6 set execution dates two at a time 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.
The execution of Bruce Ward had been vacated by a decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court which Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge did not challenge. She did challenge the stay for Davis.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to vacate the Arkansas Supreme Court decision in reference to Don Davis. I am disappointed in this delay for the victim’s family,” Hutchinson noted in a statement following the U.S. Supreme Court decision. “However, the 8th Circuit decision today overturning Judge Baker’s stay and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling vacating Judge Griffen’s temporary restraining order mean that the courts have once again cleared the state to proceed with carrying out the sentences of the other inmates. 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.”
Attorneys for the inmates argued in their filing before the U.S. Supreme Court that the court does not have jurisdiction to grant the state’s request because the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling was not a final ruling on which a federal question was necessary.
“It is remarkably ironic that the State of Arkansas seeks to deprive its highest court of jurisdiction in a pending case in which no actual decision has been reached. More to the point, this Court does not have jurisdiction to take such action, because there is no final judgment for it to review. And even if this Court did have jurisdiction, it should not exercise it, for no error was committed by the state high court,” noted the federal public defenders representing Davis.
Continuing, the filing noted: “Moreover, the ruling does not terminate the litigation. To the contrary, in any meaningful sense it starts the litigation. The Arkansas Supreme Court simply found sufficient merit in the motion to recall its mandate that it now considers the motion to be a “case,” to be decided by it after full briefing on the merits. Thus, its ruling is interlocutory, not final. In particular, it is entirely possible that the Arkansas Supreme Court would actually rule in favor of the State after full briefing and consideration of the merits.”
Davis’ attorneys also said Rutledge’s response was “devoid of legal merit” because the Arkansas Supreme Court simply sought a review of the mental health status of Davis.
Rutledge issued this statement following the U.S. Supreme Court decision: “It is heartbreaking that the family of Jane Daniel has once again seen justice delayed. Davis was convicted of his crimes in 1992, and my office took every action it could today to see that justice was carried out. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say and has decided not to lift the stay at this time.
“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. The families have waited far too long to see justice, and I will continue to make that a priority.”