LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas has received international attention for its plan to carry out multiple executions — formerly eight but now seven — in the space of 11 days this month.
The plan originally called for executing two inmates on each of four days between April 17 and April 27. On Thursday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction staying the execution of one inmate, Jason McGehee, after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended that his sentence be commuted from death to life without parole.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson is not bound by the board’s recommendation, but the stay means McGehee cannot be executed this month.
U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall issued the stay in one of several lawsuits the inmates have filed in state and federal courts seeking to block their executions. In the case that led to the ruling, six of the inmates say the state’s accelerated execution schedule has improperly shortened the clemency process and is depriving them of their due-process rights.
Hutchinson set the accelerated schedule so the state can carry out as many executions as possible before its supply of one of its execution drugs expires April 30. No state has put so many people to death in so short a time in the modern era.
Arkansas was unable to execute the inmates sooner because of legal challenges and difficulties obtaining execution drugs, obstacles that have prevented the state from putting anyone to death since 2005. Hutchinson said in February the path had been cleared for resuming executions when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the state’s lethal-injection law, effectively upholding the law.
Anti-death penalty groups, former corrections officials and the inmates’ lawyers have voiced alarm over the state’s plan.
The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has called the plan “historic and gruesome.”
Twenty-five former corrections officials from across the country have written to Hutchinson warning that the accelerated schedule will impose extraordinary trauma and stress on prison staff.
Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for the inmates, has said that “the assembly-line aspect of killing eight people in a week and a half is appalling.”
Hutchinson says the plan is necessary.
“This action is necessary to fulfill the requirement of the law, but it is also important to bring closure to the victims’ families who have lived with the court appeals and uncertainty for a very long time,” he said in February.
The inmates slated to die this month are:
Williams, 38, Williams was serving a life sentence for the 1998 killing of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd when he escaped from the Cummins Unit in Lincoln County in 1999.
He shot and killed Cecil Boren, 57, at Boren’s nearby home, stole Boren’s truck and was captured after a high-speed chase in Missouri during which he crashed into a vehicle and killed the driver, Michael Greenwood, 24, of Springfield, Mo.
Williams is scheduled to die April 27 for Boren’s killing. He also is serving three sentences of life without parole, one for aggravated robbery and two for capital murder.
The Parole Board has recommended that Williams not receive clemency.
Lee, 51, is scheduled to die April 20 for the 1993 slaying of 26-year-old Debra Reese of Jacksonville during a robbery at her home. Authorities said Reese was beaten 36 times with a tire iron her husband had given her to use for protection when he was away.
After his arrest in that case, investigators linked Lee to several other crimes, including the rapes of a Jacksonville woman and a Jacksonville teenager. He is serving a 60-year sentence and a sentence of life without parole, both for rape.
The Parole Board has recommended that Lee not receive clemency.
Williams 46, is scheduled to die April 24 for the 1994 slaying of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson of Jacksonville.
Authorities said Errickson had stopped for gas in Jacksonville when Williams abducted her at gunpoint, forced her to drive to several ATMs and made her withdraw a total of $350.
Errickson’s body was found in a shallow grave. She had been raped and then suffocated, authorities said.
The Parole Board has recommended that Williams not receive clemency.
Bruce Earl Ward
Ward, 60, is sentenced to die April 17 for the 1990 slaying of 18-year-old Little Rock convenience store clerk Rebecca Lynn Doss.
A Little Rock police officer who was on patrol noticed that no one was behind the counter at the store and went in to investigate. He encountered Ward coming out of the men’s room.
Doss’ body was found on the floor of the men’s room. She had been strangled, authorities said.
Ward previously had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Pennsylvania in a woman’s strangulation death.
Ward did not apply for clemency this year.
Don William Davis
Davis, 54, is scheduled to die April 17 for the 1990 fatal shooting of 62-year-old Jane Daniel of Rogers during a robbery at her home.
Davis was scheduled to be put to death in 2010, but within hours of the time set for the execution the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay because of a legal challenge to the state’s lethal-injection law. The court ultimately ruled that the law in place at the time gave too much discretion to the state Department of Correction.
Davis did not apply for clemency this year.
Jack Harold Jones Jr.
Jones, 52, is scheduled to die April 24 for the 1995 killing of 34-year-old Mary Phillips during a robbery of the accounting office in Bald Knob where she worked as a bookkeeper. Jones also severely beat Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter, Lacy Phillips, and left her for dead.
When police officers first arrived at the crime scene they did not realize Lacy Phillips was there, but after an officer noticed blood coming from under the bathroom door they entered the bathroom and found her. They mistook her for dead until a police photographer took a photo of her face and her eyes snapped open.
In addition to his death sentence for capital murder, Jones received a life sentence for rape and a 30-year sentence for attempted capital murder.
Jones also is serving another life sentence for the 1991 killing of 32-year-old Lorraine Anne Barrett in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Jones was linked to the crime in 2003 through DNA testing.
The Parole Board is expected to announce a recommendation on Jones’ application for clemency early this week. Jones has said he feels regret and remorse for his crimes and that significant mitigating factors, including a history of mental illness and childhood abuse, were not considered by the jury at his trial.
Marshall has said the Parole Board must report its recommendation to him, a sign that he is still considering whether to grant a stay in Jones’ case.
Stacey Eugene Johnson
Johnson, 47, is scheduled to die April 20 for the 1993 killing of Carol Jean Heath of De Queen.
Heath was found in her home with signs of strangulation, blunt-force head injuries and her throat cut through to the spine, nearly causing decapitation. Her two children, ages 6 and 2, were hiding in a bedroom when the killing occurred.
The Parole Board has recommended that Johnson not receive clemency.