In Brief

Supreme Court blocks Arkansas executions

Prisoners Don Davis and Bruce Ward saved from the death penalty with just hours to spare

Two prisoners on death row for murder in the US have escaped execution following a last-minute decision by a state Supreme Court.

Convicted murderers Don Davis and Bruce Ward, who have spent more than 20 years on death row, were to be executed in Arkansas on Monday night, the first time the state has used the death penalty in 12 years.

However, after their lawyers argued they were mentally unfit to face execution, the Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay.

Davis had already been served his last meal and moved to the death chamber, reports the BBC.

Officials in Arkansas drew international criticism in February when they announced plans to execute eight prisoners over ten days in an attempt to use up the state's supply of lethal injection drugs before it expired at the end of the month.

However, a blanket ban was made on Saturday blocking all the executions. In a flurry of legal activity, this was then overturned by a federal court.

Opponents raised concerns over the safety and effectiveness of the controversial pain-relief drug midazolam in the three-drug cocktail given during executions. Use of the drug has been criticised after botched executions in the past.

The remaining executions are due to take place in the coming weeks – critics call it a "conveyor-belt of death" – although the remaining death row inmates also look likely to raise last-minute legal challenges.

Arkansas and other states with the death penalty are being hit by the declining availability of lethal drugs in recent years. Pharmaceutical companies wish to avoid being linked to executions for ethical and reputational reasons.

In the current case, drug company McKesson obtained a temporary restraining order against Arkansas for allegedly obtaining a supply of drugs under false pretences, writes the New York Times.

Who are the eight Arkansas death row prisoners?

Don Davis - convicted of the 1990 murder of Jane Daniels as he burgled her home.

Ledell Lee - convicted of the 1993 bludgeoning of Debra Reese using a tyre iron.

Stacey Johnson - convicted of murdering Carol Heath, who was beaten, strangled and had her throat slit in 1993.

Kenneth Williams - convicted of murdering former prison warden Cecil Boren while on the run from prison, where he was serving time for murdering cheerleader Dominique Hurd.

Jack Jones - convicted of the rape and murder of Mary Phillips and the beating of her 11-year-old daughter.

Marcel Williams - convicted of abduction, robbery and murder of Stacy Errickson at a petrol station in 1994.

Bruce Ward - convicted of murder of 18-year-old petrol station clerk Rebecca Doss in 1989.

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