LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Attorneys for two death row inmates who were spared from execution last year asked Arkansas' highest court on Thursday to strike down a law that gives the state's prison director authority to determine whether they're mentally competent to be put to death.
The Arkansas Supreme Court heard appeals from convicted murderers Bruce Ward and Jack Greene, who argue the law giving that authority to Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley violates their constitutional rights. Both inmates were granted stays last year so the court could hear their challenges to the law. Arkansas doesn't have any executions scheduled, and the state is lacking two of the three drugs needed for its lethal injection process.
"The director cannot be considered a neutral decision-maker in this context," John C. Williams, a federal public defender representing Greene, told the justices. "She is both a party and the judge. She is the person responsible for executing the prisoner and she serves the governor, who set the execution."
The court last year halted Ward's and Greene's executions as it considered their challenge to the law. Ward was one of eight inmates the state planned to execute over an 11-day period in April 2017. Ward and three other inmates were granted stays. Greene was set to be executed last November before he was issued a stay.
The state's attorneys said the law still provides due process, and that the prison director can be impartial in reviewing an inmate's mental competency.
"She has no more of an interest in the carrying out of his execution than she does in the carrying out of any other sentence," Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Henry said. "She has no discretion as to who is executed, when they are executed, how they are executed."
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.
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 said last month it was highly unlikely Arkansas would obtain new drugs or set dates before next spring.
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