Supreme court forces Arkansas to halt first in string of executions

Don Davis stay delays plan to kill prisoners before stock of lethal drug expires

Death-penalty protest: demonstrators in Arkansas this week. Photograph: Tamir Kalifa/New York Times

Death-penalty protest: demonstrators in Arkansas this week. Photograph: Tamir Kalifa/New York Times


Plans by the US state of Arkansas to execute up to eight men before the end of the month received a setback after the United States supreme court intervened to spare the life of a death-row prisoner, minutes before his planned execution.

Don Davis had eaten his final meal, and was being moved towards the execution chamber, but was granted a last-minute reprieve after the court intervened just before his death warrant expired, at midnight on Monday.

Davis, along with Bruce Ward, was scheduled to be killed by lethal injection. A stay was earlier placed on Ward’s sentence by an Arkansas court.

The state attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, vowed to press on with five other executions this week, including two set for Thursday.

“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,” Ms Rutledge said. “The families have waited far too long to see justice, and I will continue to make that a priority.”

Arkansas had been preparing to proceed with a series of killings this week before its stock of midazolam, one of three drugs used to kill inmates through lethal injection, reaches its expiry date, at the end of the month.

The string of executions would mark the state’s first killing of a death-row prisoner since 2005.  

In a setback for Ms Rutledge, the US supreme court denied her request to vacate a stay issued by the Arkansas supreme court on Davis’s execution.

It followed a day of legal wrangling after a federal appeals court in St Louis, Missouri, overruled an earlier decision by a lower court to block Arkansas’s plan to execute up to eight prisoners.

Monday’s reprieve was not the first time Davis had been granted a last-minute reprieve: a similar stay was granted in 2010. He was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of Jane Daniel in Rogers, Arkansas; he shot her with a gun he found in her house after breaking into her home.

The intervention by the US supreme court represented one of Neil Gorsuch’s first capital-punishment cases since his appointment to the nine-member court, last week.