The Arkansas Supreme Court blocked executions of two inmates scheduled for last night, thwarting plans by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to put to death six men before the state’s lethal-injection drugs expire this month, the Wall Street Journal reports. The court postponed the executions of Bruce Ward and Don Davis pending the outcome of a case in the U.S. Supreme Court called McWilliams v. Dunn. The justices are considering whether poor criminal defendants are entitled to independent experts to help them prepare their defense. Arguments are scheduled for next Monday.
Before Ward and Davis received their death sentences, courts denied their requests for funding for independent experts to evaluate their mental health, though both exhibited signs of severe mental illness. Nicholas Bronni, Arkansas deputy solicitor general, said the decision was “based on a misinterpretation of federal law.” He said the state would “seek immediate review.” The U.S. Supreme Court later declined an appeal from the state’s attorney general to lift the stay that would temporarily halt the executions of the two men, the Associated Press reported. The orders don’t affect the state’s plans to carry out the remaining executions scheduled for April 20, 24 and 27. State and federal courts are working through legal challenges filed in response to Hutchinson’s announcement in February that Arkansas would execute eight men in less than two weeks, an unprecedented schedule that has energized the death-penalty debate nationwide.