LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law that gives the state’s prison director authority to determine whether an inmate is mentally competent to be put to death, siding with two convicted murderers who were spared from execution last year.
In two 4-3 rulings, justices ruled the competency law violated due process rights guaranteed in the Arkansas and U.S. Constitutions. Convicted murderers Bruce Ward and Jack Greene were granted stays last year so the court could hear their cases. Arkansas has no executions scheduled, and lacks two of the three drugs needed for its lethal injection process.
The rulings, which reverse a judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuits, revives the inmates’ efforts to challenge their competency to be executed.
“We’re pleased the court held the statute unconstitutional, and we look forward to litigating our clients’ competence,” John C. Williams, a federal public defender representing the inmates, said in an email.
Ward was one of eight inmates whom Arkansas planned to execute in April 2017. Ward and three other inmates were granted stays, and the state ultimately executed four men over an eight-day period that month. Greene was scheduled to be put to death in November, but that was also halted.
Ward has been on death row since 1990 for the death of Rebecca Lynn Doss, and his attorneys said he’s a diagnosed schizophrenic. Attorneys for Greene, who was sentenced to death for the 1991 slaying of Sidney Burnett, said he suffers from psychotic delusions and believes the attorneys and prison officials have conspired to torture him.
Justices on Thursday also rejected Greene’s argument that executing him after 25 years in solitary confinement would be cruel and unusual punishment and violate his constitutional rights, ruling the lower court was correct to dismiss that part of his lawsuit.
Arkansas prison officials have put their search for new execution drugs on hold until the Legislature expands its execution drug secrecy law to include manufacturers. An attorney for the state in August said it was highly unlikely Arkansas would obtain new drugs or set execution dates before next spring.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was disappointed in the rulings and was reviewing the decisions to consider further options.