Arkansas vows to keep pushing for executions despite setback

This photo provided by Sherry Simon shows Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen taking part of an anti-death penalty demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion Friday, April 14, 2017 in Little Rock, Ark. Griffen issued a temporary restraining order Friday blocking the state from using its supply of vecuronium bromide after a company said it had sold the drug to the state for medical purposes, not capital punishment. Local media outlets had tweeted photos and video of Griffen appearing to mimic an inmate strapped to a gurney at the demonstration. 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. (Sherry Simon via AP)

VARNER, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas officials vowed to carry out a double execution later this week after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a setback to the state’s plan to resume capital punishment for the first time in nearly 12 years with a ruling sparing an inmate just minutes before his death warrant was set to expire.

The court’s decision was the second time Don Davis had been granted a reprieve shortly before execution — he was within hours of death in 2010. It capped a chaotic day of legal wrangling in state and federal courts Monday as Arkansas tried to clear obstacles to carrying out its first executions since 2005.

Davis had already been served a last meal of fried chicken, rolls, beans, mashed potatoes and strawberry cake hours, and witnesses were being moved toward the execution chamber when the Supreme Court ruled just minutes before Davis’ death warrant expired at midnight.

FILE – This 2013 file photo provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows Don William Davis, who has been scheduled for execution Monday, April 17, 2017. (Arkansas Department of Correction, via AP, File)

Davis was sentenced to death for the 1990 death of Jane Daniel in Rogers, Arkansas. The woman was killed in her home after Davis broke in and shot her with a .44-caliber revolver he found there.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson had set an aggressive schedule of as many as eight executions by the end of April, when the state’s supply of a key lethal injection drug expires. Davis and Bruce Ward were supposed to be the first two of those Monday but Ward received a stay of execution and the state did not appeal the decision. The state did challenge a stay granted to Davis but the last-minute U.S. Supreme Court ruling ensured that he would not enter the death chamber Monday.

Despite the setbacks, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Arkansas would press ahead with other planned executions, including two set for Thursday — Ledell Lee and Stacey Johnson.

“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,” Rutledge said.

Lawyers for the inmates were not immediately available after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Earlier in the day, the state had cleared two of the main obstacles to resuming executions. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal judge’s ruling blocking the executions over the use of midazolam, a sedative used in flawed executions in other states. The state Supreme Court also lifted a lower court ruling preventing the state from using another lethal injection drug that a supplier said was sold to be used for medical purposes, not executions.

The high court’s order sparing Davis offered no explanation, but none of the justices voted in favor of lifting the stay. Monday marked the first day that the U.S. Supreme Court was in session with new Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

This combination of undated photos provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows death-row inmates Stacey E. Johnson, left, and Ledell Lee. Both men are scheduled for execution on April 20, 2017. (Arkansas Department of Correction via AP)

Hutchinson’s original schedule of eight lethal injections in 11 days would have marked the most inmates put to death by a state in such a short period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state scheduled such a compressed schedule because of the expiration of its supply of midazolam.

Arkansas enacted a law two years ago keeping secret the source of its lethal injection drugs, a move officials said was necessary to find new supplies. Despite the secrecy measure, prison officials have said it will be very difficult to find a supplier willing to sell Arkansas midazolam after its current stock expires.

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DeMillo reported from Little Rock. Associated Press writers Jill Bleed in Little Rock and Kelly P. Kissel in Varner contributed to this report.

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