LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Latest on two death penalty cases under consideration by the Arkansas Supreme Court (all times local):
Lawyers for the state of Arkansas say two men who won temporary stays during a flurry of executions last spring never reached the minimum standards necessary to trigger aid from mental health professionals throughout their trials.
Attorneys for Bruce Ward and Don Davis went before the state Supreme Court on Thursday to argue independent psychiatrists should have reviewed their files and helped develop trial strategies. In their questioning, justices said Ward wasn’t fully cooperative when doctors assessed him and that Davis appeared to have received a level of assistance that went beyond what was required.
The court last April stopped Ward’s and Davis’ executions so it could review what level of assistance was required. At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court was looking at a similar case from Alabama. Lawyers for Arkansas and the inmates differed Thursday on what it meant for Arkansas’ death row cases.
A lawyer for an Arkansas inmate who came within hours of being put to death last year has told the state Supreme Court that for three decades it has been misinterpreting a ruling that sets when death row inmates should have access to mental health experts.
Bruce Ward was among eight inmates set for execution last April. Justices issued a stay for him and Don Davis while the U.S. Supreme Court took up a similar case from Alabama.
In arguments Thursday, lawyer Scott Braden said Ward never had access to a fully independent mental examiner. The state’s lawyer, Lee Rudofsky, said Ward was evaluated but never met the minimum threshold for triggering a requirement that he be given assistance at all stages of his trial.
Arguments in Davis’ case were set for later Thursday morning.
Arkansas inmates who came within hours of being executed last year are heading back to court in efforts to save their lives.
Lawyers for Bruce Ward and Don Davis are due before the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday to argue their poor mental health leaves them ineligible for the death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said states cannot execute the mentally ill. Ward and Davis say they did not receive assistance from independent health experts during their previous legal fights, as required by courts.
In separate sets of arguments to be decided later, Ward and Jack Greene say Arkansas’ prisons director should not be allowed to determine whether they are sane enough to be put to death.
One of the three drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners expires March 1.