LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – The Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the execution of an inmate whose lawyers argued is delusional, two days before the convicted murderer was set to die by lethal injection.
The scheduled execution of Jack Greene, 62, sparked international criticism of the state’s plan to put a mentally ill man to death. Arkansas has a new supply of execution drug midazolam that expires in January 2019, and Thursday’s scrapped execution was to be the state’s first since four inmates died by lethal injection over eight days in April.
The Arkansas Supreme Court justices voted 5-2 on Tuesday in favor of Greene’s request for an emergency stay, in a one-paragraph order that offered no remarks.
Prosecutors had urged the state’s high court to allow the execution to move forward, arguing that Greene hasn’t shown he is actually not competent to be put to death for his crime, described as “macabre horror.”
Greene is on death row for the brutal 1991 killing of Sidney Burnett, who was beaten with a can of hominy and stomped on, before being shot in the chest and head. The 69-year-old retired minister also had his throat slit “from mouth to ear” when he was bound by his hands, feet and mouth in his Johnson County home, according to court records.
The Arkansas Parole Board unanimously recommended against clemency earlier this month, but Greene’s attorney insisted his client’s severe mental illness is “well-documented” and that he does not understand his execution. He suffers from delusions about a conspiracy to injure him, according to Greene’s attorney, Scott Braden.
“Today’s order means that our client, Jack Greene, will have the opportunity to make the case that he should receive an independent hearing about his competency for execution,” Braden said Tuesday. “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.”
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge expressed disappointment in the decision but a spokesman said Tuesday that she will not challenge it.
“With no written order or explanation provided, the Arkansas Supreme Court has once again delayed justice for the family of Sidney Burnett. I will continue to fight for justice for Sidney Burnett and to give the Burnett family the closure they deserve,” Rutledge, a Republican, said in a statement.
Greene would have become the fifth Arkansas inmate to die by lethal injection this year. A broad coalition of mental health professionals, legal scholars, and politicians asked Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to intervene last month.
Hutchinson also expressed frustration with the ruling but said that the state will wait for the next court decision.
“Last-minute delays are always very difficult and only prolong the justice the Burnett family was promised more than 20 years ago,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “This case has been reviewed by the courts on numerous occasions, and the state must now await further court action before the penalty given by an Arkansas jury is carried out.”
Greene said in a last will and testament that he wanted his head surgically removed from his body so that his brain could be examined by a doctor he saw on a TV show.