(Reuters) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the planned execution this week of a convicted killer who his lawyers argued is severely mentally ill and should not be put to death.
Justices granted an emergency stay for Thursday’s execution of Jack Greene, 62, convicted in 1991 of the death of Sidney Burnett. The court release its decision without comment.
Prosecutors said Greene inflicted a “macabre horror” on the 69-year-old retired minister, by beating him with a can of hominy, cutting him from mouth to ear and then shooting him twice.
Greene’s public defenders sought the stay to allow the state Supreme Court more time to review a lower court’s decision to uphold an Arkansas law giving prison authorities the ability to determine a prisoner’s mental competence. Defense attorneys argued Greene was delusional and had brain damage.
“The U.S Constitution prohibits the execution of prisoners with mental illness so severe that they lack a rational understanding of the punishment, yet Arkansas law gives the Department of Correction director sole discretion over such proceedings, denying the prisoners’ due process rights,” Scott
Braden, Greene’s attorney, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Greene’s attorneys said the stay would allow the inmate to seek a fair competency hearing with a neutral decision maker.
A spokesman for Arkansas Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge could not be reached on Tuesday, but the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Rutledge would not appeal the decision.
Rutledge, representing Wendy Kelley, director of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, previously argued the state law had been upheld and the execution should go forward.
The state’s response included a transcript from an October clemency hearing in which Greene, who is from North Carolina, said he accepted responsibility for murdering Burnett.
The execution was set to be the state’s first since it executed four men in April over eight days.
Arkansas had initially planned to execute eight inmates in 11 days in April, the most of any state in so short a period since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, because its supply of the drug used in its lethal injection mix was set to expire. Four of those executions were halted by various courts.
Arkansas got a new supply of its lethal injection drugs for Greene’s execution.
Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney