The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of execution Monday afternoon, hours before Don Davis was to die by lethal injection.
The state Department of Correction said justices intervened amid a question over whether the Legislature properly left execution policies in the hands of prison officials.
Davis, 47, was convicted of breaking into a home in Northwest Arkansas in 1990 and killing a woman who lived there is to die by lethal injection Monday night.
Davis has been on death row since his conviction in 1992. Prosecutors said Davis burglarized a Rogers home next door to Jane Daniel’s home on Oct. 12, 1990, and stole a variety of items, including a .44-caliber Redhawk Magnum revolver. He then used the gun, which was later found in Davis’ Bentonville home, to murder Daniel, execution style.
Daniel’s husband arrived home from a business trip later the night of the killing. He found a Kool cigarette butt in a kitchen rice bowl and his wife lying dead in a nearby pantry.
Davis was arrested in Las Vegas, where officers said he asked for Kool brand cigarettes.
Earlier, Department of Correction spokeswoman Dina Tyler said prison officials were preparing as though the 9 p.m. execution would go forward.
However, the Friday ruling by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that lifted Davis’ stay was on a 2-1 vote. The dissenting judge argued that the stay should endure because of Davis’ challenge to a state policy allowing changes in the execution protocol.
“The stay should remain in effect until that issue can be resolved,” wrote Judge Michael J. Melloy.
Witnesses testified at Davis’ trial that they saw Davis with stolen goods from the two houses. One of Davis’ roommates testified Davis had a gun in a white towel in his car. The roommate said Davis warned her that if she touched the towel “it would be (her) death sentence.”
Arkansas last executed a prisoner in November 2005, when convicted killer Eric Nance died by lethal injection.
Excluding Davis, there are 39 people on Arkansas’ death row.
Davis had been set for execution on Nov. 8, but won a stay because of a court challenge in Kentucky that claimed the lethal injection procedure was cruel and unusual. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the inmates.
Stacey Eugene Johnson, 40, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on May 4. Like Davis, his stay was lifted in a 2-1 ruling by a panel of the 8th Circuit. Johnson’s lawyer, Jeff Rosenzweig, said he would seek a new hearing.
A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said it planned to set a new date for Jones soon after receiving a letter from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying Jones had exhausted his appeals.
In 1995, Davis was among death row inmates caught when state police investigated a gang of killers on death row who managed to smuggle drugs, weapons, alcohol and tools into death row. The tools included wire cutters, pliers and a hacksaw blade, and troopers also found a priest’s cassock and the white top to a karate uniform.