As it stands now, Arkansas is set to execute seven inmates in 10 days.
The executions will start on Monday, April 17 with the lethal injections of Don Davis and Bruce Ward. Stacey Johnson's and Ledell Lee's executions will follow on Thursday, April 20. Jack Jones and Marcell Williams are scheduled to be executed on Monday, April 24, and the final execution--that of Kenneth Williams--will be on Thursday, April 27. A federal judge recently stayed the execution of Jason McGehee, who was set to die before Williams on April 27.
The Arkansas Department of Correction has not executed a death row inmate since 2005, and no state has ever successfully executed two inmates in one day with the sedative drug Arkansas plans to use. Midazolam, the drug in question, also expires at the end of the month, which exacerbates the already tight execution schedule.
Here is THV11's comprehensive coverage of the executions.
In a private conference with local press, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced he is confident in the state's execution process.
He said everything will be moving forward as planned. Hutchinson said that overall, Arkansans support the death penalty and it's time to provide closure for the victim’s families after decades of legal work.
The governor said he has done his homework and asked the Department of Correction staff many questions about carrying out the executions. He feels the personnel that will be involved in the executions are well prepared, experienced and trained.
Whether you’re for or against the death penalty, there is a heavy cost associated with the care of death row inmates. We wanted to verify the truth of it all by looking at the cost of execution versus incarceration.
"If we execute these people there may be some short term cost savings for those people, but when you look at the process as a whole, those savings are a lot less," said Robert Lytle, a Criminal Justice Assistant Professor at UA Little Rock.
After a trial, there are often multiple appeals, new trials, and standard legal proceedings in death penalty cases. The executions scheduled now are coming about 20 years after sentencing.
The Innocence Project has asked an Arkansas circuit court to grant new DNA testing to death row inmate Stacey Johnson. The inmate is one of seven men set to be executed in a 10-day span starting on April 17.
In a press release, the group said newer DNA testing has "never been performed" in Johnson's case and could potentially prove he is innocent of the crime he's been charged with.
Johnson was convicted of the murder of Carol Heath in April of 1993. She was found only wearing a t-shirt. The evidence shows she was stabbed in the throat and raped. Johnson has maintained his innocence throughout his entire time in prison.
James Phillips’ wife, 34 year-old Mary Phillips, was raped and murdered and his daughter was almost beat to death by Jack Jones, one of the seven death row inmates set to be executed.
Phillips will be on the front row of Jones' execution April 24 as a witness.
“I don't think it will bother me a bit," he said. "I've been waiting for justice for nearly 22 years and that's all I'm after.”
While people around the world focus on the upcoming executions in Arkansas, some people are watching even more closely. One Arkansas woman is paying attention, to see she could find any additional comfort for her own loss.
“I just hope that this brings peace and comfort to the families,” said Bethany Ault-Pyle. “I really do. I think that, I know I would feel like it would, for me, if I could get that sort of justice for Briana.”
Ault-Pyle did not get what she felt was necessary after the murder of her daughter, Briana Ault, in 2010.
At the heart of the federal court challenge to Arkansas’s death penalty protocol is a drug called “midazolam.”
It’s the latest battleground in the 50-year debate over capital punishment in the United States. With Arkansas planning to execute seven inmates before its supply of the sedative runs out at the end of April, the issue is moving the state to the international stage.
But midazolam has never been used in Arkansas in executions, and no state has ever successfully executed two inmates in one day using the sedative.
According to the Bureau of Justice and Death Penalty Information Center, the average time from sentencing to execution for was just around 16 years. If no appeals are raised, that process can happen as soon as six months, but that rarely happens.
The wait to be executed puts stress not only on the inmates, but leaves grieving families in agony during the entire process.
One woman whose brother was murdered in 1968 is against the death penalty, partly because she wants funds put towards helping victims’ families instead of sentencing the accused to death. In a special report, we told you the Arkansas Public Defender Commission can spend an estimate of $75,000 - $100,000 more in cases where the death penalty is sought. Judith Elane thinks that money can be better spent.
"The death penalty has never made any sense to me. I recall as a young person encountering, why do we kill people who kill people to teach killing people is wrong?” said Elane.
While an advocate to abolish the death penalty, Elane knows the pain of losing a brother to murder.
A federal judge has blocked the execution of one of the eight inmates Arkansas was planning to put to death this month.
"We will respond to any and all challenges that might occur between now and the executions as the prisoners continue to use all available means to delay their lawful sentence,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
Only a few hundred people live in the town of Grady, but the upcoming executions are drawing the attention of millions.
Deborah Robinson has spent a long time with this story. As a freelance journalist who works in both Little Rock and Las Vegas, she has spent most of the last two years writing a book about the eight inmates.
Talk about the pending executions has made its way into churches and religious settings. Many preachers, rabbis and bishops have been vocal about their stance.
Rabbi Barry Block of Congregation B'Nai Israel said he signed a multi-faith clergy letter opposing the upcoming executions.
I’m afraid that Arkansas would be blood thirsty if it allowed seven or eight executions to go forward,” said Block.
One week before executions are scheduled to begin, a new trial began April 10, which could be the last, best hope for the seven men who are scheduled to die later this month.
Inside the federal courthouse in downtown Little Rock, lawyers for the seven condemned inmates argued that midazolam, the first drug in the series of the three-drug cocktail the state plans to use, violates the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Doctor Joel Zivot, an anesthesiologist from Emory University in Atlanta, testified that midazolam won't prevent pain, but will prevent the memory of pain.
Marcell Williams is on death row for killing 22 year old Stacy Errickson in 1994. He was found guilty of abducting her from a gas station, raping, and suffocating the young mother of two. Her body was found in a shallow grave weeks later.
“This man has turned his life around, and he’s found God," said Dina Windle, who claims she was abducted, raped, and tied up by Marcel Williams 22 years ago. She managed to escape and is now asking the parole board to give Williams another chance at life.
It is almost impossible to imagine what the men and women who are tasked with carrying out executions go through, particularly when confronted with one that does not go as planned.
Two dozen former corrections officials and administrators recently sent a letter to Hutchinson asking him to reconsider the schedule, out of concern for the “extraordinary and unnecessary stress and trauma” to the members of the execution team. Managing seven or eight rapid executions will be a brutalizing experience, even if there are no surprises.
Source: Arkansas Department of Corrections
Hall witnessed the execution of Kristina Riggs in 2000, he told us that 17 years later it still haunts him. We spoke with him on the phone today, but he declined an on-camera interview, saying the conversation would just be too hard. He signed up because he felt it was his duty as Riggs Lawyer but he said he doesn't know why anyone would want to volunteer.
He still remembers the last moments before Riggs death: she sang gospel hymns and prayed. He said when the drugs hit her system her whole body turned gray, an image he said he'll never forget.
Critics of capital punishment hope Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson hears their message to stop the scheduled executions of the “Arkansas Eight.” If he is at home, he might.
Members of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are staging a daily rally outside the Governor’s Mansion. They held signs, marched up and down the block, and chanted for mercy Wednesday afternoon, for Jason McGehee, and the rest of the Arkansas 8. McGehee became the first of the death row inmates scheduled for execution later this month to earn a recommendation of clemency from the Arkansas Parole Board.