Court: Six death-row inmates no longer under stays of execution


LITTLE ROCK — The stays of execution previously issued by the state Supreme Court for six death-row inmates are no longer in place, the court ruled Thursday.

The court also said the inmates will have to take their case to circuit court if they want to challenge the state’s recently passed lethal-injection law.

The high court made the ruling in the case of inmates Jack Harold Jones, Marcel Williams, Jason McGehee, Don Davis, Bruce Ward and Stacey Johnson. The six had been under stays of execution that the Supreme Court granted in 2010 while the inmates challenged the constitutionality of the state’s lethal injection procedure.

Last year, the court ruled that the state’s lethal-injection law gave too much discretion to the director of the state Department of Correction, in violation of the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers. In response, the state Legislature passed Act 139 of 2013, which sets forth the types of drugs the department can use for lethal injections and the procedures the department must use for carrying out the death penalty.

The state attorney general’s office petition the court to lift the stays of execution in March, shortly after Act 139 became law, arguing that the new law removed the issues that the inmates had challenged. The inmates asked the court to keep the stays in place and asked it to accept a new case challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

In a three-page per curiam order Thursday, the Supreme Court said the stays were “dissolved” when it issued its 2012 ruling. It also said it would not take a new case because it lacked jurisdiction.

“We conclude that a circuit court would have jurisdiction of a constitutional challenge advanced by petitioners regarding the newly enacted Act 139, ” the court said in the order. ”For these reasons, (state’s) motion to lift stays of execution is moot, and we deny petitioner’s request to take the matter as a case.”