Since states resumed executions in 1976 after the Supreme Court suspended use of the death penalty in 1972 and then reinstated its use four years later, only twice have eight inmates been executed within a single month.
The Arkansas Supreme Court recognized that executing either man, before the Court answers this question. would be profoundly arbitrary and unjust, Scott Braden, an assistant federal public defender for the inmates, said Monday.
But as the May 1 expiration date for Arkansas' supply of lethal injection drew near, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he wanted to execute eight men, including Davis, in 11 days.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office said she planned to file an emergency request with the state Supreme Court to vacate Griffen's order, saying Griffen shouldn't handle the case.
Davis came within six hours of execution in 2010 before he was spared by the state supreme court.
But on Monday night a new stay of execution was imposed by the state supreme court covering both Ward and Davis over the question of whether they had been entitled to independent legal counsel over their mental health issues - a subject that the U.S. supreme court is poised to consider in Williams v Dunn next week.
Davis was sentenced to die for the 1990 death of Jane Daniel in Rogers, who was killed in her home when Davis broke in and shot her with a.44-caliber revolver he found there. Ward's attorneys have argued he is a diagnosed schizophrenic with no rational understanding of his impending execution, and the Arkansas high court already had issued one stay for Ward after a Jefferson County judge said she didn't have the authority to halt Ward's execution.
There has been a flurry of court filings, hearings and rulings in state and federal courts in recent weeks, but right now officials say there are no legal obstacles stopping the remaining five executions set to take place by the end of next week.
The legal issue that halted Monday's executions for Ward and Davis hinged on a separate, broader case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning a defendant's access to independent experts, and attorneys say the justices' ruling could potentially affect the inmates' criminal convictions.
The new complaint mirrors one filed last week that Friday resulted in Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issuing a stay of all executions Arkansas scheduled through the end of the month.
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A medical supplier is again seeking to prevent Arkansas from using its drugs in executions.
The executions had originally been expected to start on Monday.
The Supreme Court refused to hear the prisoners' appeal in February, along with another case from Alabama.
Inmates Bruce Ward (top row L to R), Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Jones (bottom row L to R), Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason Mcgehee are shown in this booking photo provided March 21, 2017. Even double executions on the same day are rare - the last time it was attempted, by Oklahoma in 2014, it led to a "bloody mess".
Critics contend it does not put a person in a deep enough state of unconsciousness and should not be used in executions. The high court asked a disciplinary panel to consider whether Griffen violated the code of conduct for judges.
Arkansas planned to execute two men per day starting after Easter Sunday on April 17, April 20, April 24 and April 27.
The inmates asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take its time reviewing transcripts and rulings, rather than complete their work in two days as the state has asked.
Both Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, the chair of the USA bishops' domestic justice and human development committee, have spoken out against the planned executions. A spokesman for Rutledge initially said the motion was rejected Monday, but he later said that was incorrect and the state had simply not yet acted on it.
That US District Court judge had ruled that the prisoners will likely succeed in demonstrating the state's proposed method of lethal injection is unconstitutional.