The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled late Tuesday (Nov. 7) to grant a stay for the planned execution of death row inmate Jack Greene. Attorneys for Greene, who was set to die by lethal injection on Thursday, have argued that his mental illness disqualifies him from the death penalty.
On Oct. 5, the Arkansas Parole board voted to deny clemency for Greene. A week earlier, Gov. Hutchinson scheduled Greene’s death by lethal injection after Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge requested an execution date be set for the longtime death-row inmate convicted of capital murder on Oct. 15, 1993. On the same day, Hutchinson granted clemency to former death row inmate Jason McGehee after the Parole Board earlier recommended that his death sentence be changed from death to life in prison with parole.
Greene was convicted for the 1991 murder of 69-year old Sidney Burnett, a preacher living in Knoxville in Johnson County. According to court reports and media accounts, Greene tortured, stabbed and shot Burnett for helping his ex-girlfriend who was trying to escape from Greene’s abuse. Before killing Burnett, Greene had traveled the week before to North Carolina and shot and killed his brother, Tommy Greene.
His attorneys argued that Greene should have an independent hearing to determine if he is competent for execution.
“Today’s order means that our client, Jack Greene, will have the opportunity to make the case that he should receive an independent hearing about his competency for execution,” Scott Braden, attorney for Jack Greene, Assistant Federal Defender of the Arkansas Federal Defender Office, noted in a statement. “The U.S Constitution prohibits the execution of prisoners with mental illness so severe that they lack a rational understanding of the punishment, yet Arkansas law gives the Department of Correction Director sole discretion over such proceedings, denying the prisoners’ due process rights.
“Mr. Greene’s mental health must be the subject of a fair competency hearing with a neutral decision maker. We look forward to seeking such a hearing for Mr. Greene, whose severe mental illness is well-documented.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had said earlier in the week the courts had carefully reviewed the matter of Greene’s mental stability, said Tuesday’s ruling delays justice.
“I am surprised by the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision to issue an emergency stay of execution for Jack Greene. Last-minute delays are always very difficult and only prolong the justice the Burnett family was promised more than 20 years ago,” he said in a statement. “This case has been reviewed by the courts on numerous occasions, and the state must now await further court action before the penalty given by an Arkansas jury is carried out.”
Greene’s attorneys filed the emergency petition on Monday in Jefferson County Circuit stating that multiple doctors had diagnosed the longtime prisoner with a severe mental illness, specifically delusional disorder.
“Greene believes that, for the past thirteen years, his attorneys and the Arkansas Department of Correction (‘ADC”) have conspired to torture him by, for example, destroying his central nervous system and injuring his inner ear,” the petition states. “There is little, in fact, that is actually wrong with Greene physically. Still, in Greene’s mind, his execution is the ultimate act in a cover-up of what he calls “crimes against humanity.’”
The petition also noted that the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids executing a prisoner who suffers from delusions that “so impairs (his) concept of reality that he cannot reach a rational understanding of the reason for the execution.”
“Greene has a substantial claim that his execution and the process for determining his fitness to be executed violate these precedents. But this Court can never hear that claim unless it stays Greene’s execution, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9,” the court filing stated.
In its one-page ruling, the Arkansas Supreme did not offer a reason for its emergency stay, which was affirmed by Chief Justice Dan Kemp and Associate Justices Robin Wynne, Courtney Goodson, Josephine Hart, and Karen Baker. Justices Shawn Womack and Rhonda Wood voted to deny the stay.
The stay sets up a likely duel of local, state and court filings between Greene’s attorney and the Arkansas Department of Corrections ahead of Greene’s execution, which is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday.
Last week, Gov. Hutchinson said Greene’s execution on Thursday would move forward after a thorough review of the death-row inmate’s case by the Arkansas Parole Board, noting that standard mental competency set by the U.S. Supreme Court has been met.
“I have reviewed all documents, transcripts, and comments from interested mental health professionals as well as the video of the clemency hearing before the Parole Board, which included Jack Greene’s testimony,” Hutchinson told reporters. “In that testimony, Jack Greene acknowledged that he understands he is being executed for the murder of Sidney Burnett and discusses why he made the decision to kill Mr. Burnett.”