- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2017

All eight executions in Arkansas were on hold as of Sunday, but if they resume this week as originally planned, state officials want convicted murderer Bruce Earl Ward back on the list.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed an appeal late Saturday asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate its Friday order granting a stay of execution for Ward, who had been slated to die Monday.

His attorneys argued in their lawsuit filed March 29 that Ward is unfit for execution because he suffers from schizophrenia, but Ms. Rutledge accused the defense of trying to game the system.

She pointed out that the inmate, who has been on death row since 1990, waited a month after the execution timetable was released Feb. 27 before filing a lawsuit.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled eight executions to run from April 17-27 with the state’s supply of a key lethal-injection drug set to expire on April 30. He issued the timetable after a 12-year battle over the death penalty that ended at the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 21.

Ward’s decision “to delay a month to initiate this case, leaving the circuit court and this Court on appeal only 15 days to act, weighs in favor of the Respondents,” said Ms. Rutledge.

Scott Braden, an assistant federal defender representing Ward, said his client’s “severe and lifelong schizophrenia and delusions, such as seeing demon dogs at the foot of his bed, have left him incompetent for execution under the constitutional standard.”

“[H]e has no rational understanding of the punishment he is slated to suffer or the reason why he is to suffer it,” Mr. Braden said in a statement in the Arkansas Times. “In fact, he does not believe he will ever be executed and believes he will walk out of prison a free man to great acclaim and riches.”

The lawsuit argued that Ward’s mental health has deteriorated after 26 years on death row, the “majority of that time spent in solitary confinement,” and that the prison refused to provide “adequate mental health treatment.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court did not explain why it granted the stay of execution, but Ms. Rutledge said the inmate’s last-minute bid is unlikely to succeed.

She argued that “the state presume that a prisoner who has been judged competent to stand trial remains sane at the time the sentence is carried out,” and that Ward had failed to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing the lawsuit.

Ward, 61, was found guilty in the 1989 strangulation of 18-year-old Rebecca Doss while she was working the night shift at a convenience store in Little Rock.

He was the first of eight men originally scheduled to die during the 11-day period, a list that was winnowed to six after Ward and inmate Jason McGehee won stays of execution earlier this month.

Ms. Rutledge is fighting two court orders delaying the executions: a temporary restraining order handed down Friday by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, and a preliminary injunction issued Saturday by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.

Mr. Griffen participated in two protests against the death-penalty on Friday, the same day that he blocked the executions, prompting Ms. Rutledge to argue that he “cannot be considered remotely impartial on issues related to the death penalty.”

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