The Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday (Oct. 20) agreed with Arkansas officials that a lower court was wrong to halt executions, but upheld a stay of executions pending the outcome of ongoing litigation in the Pulaski County Circuit Court.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court a decision by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin staying the executions of eight death row inmates whose appeals have been exhausted and whose execution dates had been set.
In its ruling, the Court said the Circuit Court issued an “invalid” stay, but that a request by the inmates to allow the Circuit Court process to continue is valid. The ruling said a valid court proceeding on such an issue must be recently moved to the point that intervention is necessary, is not frivolous and can’t be decided prior to an execution date.
“We hold that all three of the necessary elements are present in this case. Therefore, we grant the request and stay the executions pending the resolution of the litigation currently pending in the Pulaski County Circuit Court,” the opinion noted.
The plaintiffs are the eight convicted inmates whose appeals have been exhausted: Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Terrick Nooner, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Don Davis; as well as a ninth death row inmate, Ledelle Lee. The first two executions of Ward and Davis had been set by Gov. Asa Hutchinson for Oct. 21, with the other six executions to follow.
The inmates sued claiming as unconstitutional a new Arkansas law that shields the state from revealing information that could identify its execution drugs’ manufacturers and sellers. The law was passed because drug manufacturers’ reluctance to being identified with the death penalty has made procuring the drugs difficult. The inmates argue that the lack of information about the drugs exposed them to the risk of pain and suffering.
Under Griffin’s ruling, the Department of Correction has been ordered to produce by Oct. 21 un-redacted package inserts, shipping labels, lab test results and product warnings for any drugs that will be administered during the execution.
Rutledge said Tuesday’s ruling was “unfortunate.”
“The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the State’s argument that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to stay the executions; however, the Supreme Court did choose to enter its own order, placing executions on hold pending the outcome of litigation at the lower court,” Rutledge noted in a statement. “While the Supreme Court’s decision is not about the merits of the case, it is unfortunate that this further delays justice for the victims. I will continue to defend Arkansas’s lethal injection statute and fight for the victims and their grieving families.”