LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Lawyers for the state of Arkansas argued Friday that the state prison director has long had the power to determine a death row inmate’s sanity and that now isn’t the time to change the way it moves the prisoners closer to their executions.

The arguments came in the case of Jack Greene, whose November execution was halted by the Arkansas Supreme Court so it could review his attorneys’ arguments that the state correction director, Wendy Kelley, should not be deciding whether he is competent enough to be executed.

Greene’s lawyers say doctors have found Greene delusional but Kelley has chosen to rely on outdated assessments of Greene’s mental health in determining whether he’s eligible to be executed. Greene’s lawyers also have argued that Kelley shouldn’t be making the determination because her boss, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, sets execution dates.

In papers filed at the state Supreme Court on Friday, assistant attorney general Kathryn Henry wrote that states are entitled to set the guidelines for review, as long as there is a “basic fairness.” She also claims that, under the Arkansas Constitution, Greene cannot sue Kelley.

While previous court decisions didn’t define “basic fairness,” the presumption is that an inmate who is sane at his trial is sane until his execution, Henry wrote. “Only after ‘a substantial threshold showing of insanity'” can an inmate win a review — and that review can be “far less formal than a trial,” she wrote.

Against his lawyers’ advice, Greene has insisted in a number of venues that he is not insane. State lawyers say that is reason enough for justices to dissolve the stay that was issued shortly before Greene’s scheduled execution last Nov. 9.

A week before the execution date, a circuit judge said she couldn’t hold a hearing on Greene’s competence because, under state law, Kelley had the “exclusive authority” to determine whether the inmate was sane enough to be executed. The Arkansas Supreme Court later voted 5-2 to issue a stay and take Greene’s case for review, rejecting state arguments.

Greene was convicted of killing Sidney Burnett in an attack that the Supreme Court previously described as “butchery and torture.” He bound Burnett, beat him with a can of hominy, stomped on him and cut him from his mouth to an ear before shooting him in the chest and head.

“I knew what I was doing to him. I couldn’t stand what I was doing to him. And I put the gun to his head and killed him,” Greene told the state Parole Board last year. He also said his lawyers were making up stories about his having delusions.

Arkansas currently does not have a full supply of execution drugs, as 75 vials of vecuronium bromide have expired. The drug is used to stop the inmates’ breathing while two other drugs sedate them and stop their hearts.


Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kisselAP