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Arkansas Capital Punishment History
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Thread: Arkansas Capital Punishment History

  1. #1
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010

    Arkansas Capital Punishment History

    The death penalty was practiced in Arkansas even before the state was admitted to the Union in 1836. According to the Arkansas News, during the American Revolution several members of the garrison at Arkansas Post were convicted of having plotted on behalf of the English to massacre all the soldiers at the Post. They were executed by a firing squad in New Orleans. These executions mark the first recorded death sentences for crimes committed in Arkansas. As of 2010, the Arkansas criminal code provides for the death penalty or life without parole upon conviction of capital murder or treason. Those convicted of rape were also subject to the death penalty until January 1, 1976, prior to the U.S. Supreme Courts ruling in Coker v. Georgia that a death sentence for rape of an adult woman was disproportionate to the crime and violated the Eighth Amendment.

    The first Arkansas penitentiary was authorized in 1838. Shortly thereafter, the state purchased ninety-two acres for $12 per acre and authorized $80,500 to construct the prison. It began operation in 1841 on the site of the current state capitol, a location that was then west of the Little Rock (Pulaski County) city limits. Convict labor was used to build it. There were relatively few beds because most of the convicts were leased to plantation owners, farmers, manufacturers, mining companies, and others who were responsible for their housing, food, healthcare, and security. The system not only paid for the cost of the penitentiary but also provided a surplus to the state treasury most years. However, over the years, a number of scandals arose over the treatment of convict labor. The most egregious was in 1880 when twenty percent of the convicts died while on contract. The practice finally ended in 1913, when the Arkansas General Assembly undertook a penitentiary reform effort. Another aspect of this reform was the centralization of executions at the State Penitentiary in Little Rock. Previously, prisoners were sentenced to death in the county where they were convicted. The law specified that electrocution was to be used to carry out the death sentence.

    Isaac Parker, a two-term Republican congressman from Missouri, was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as the federal judge for the Western District of Arkansas in 1875. The district had jurisdiction over the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). During his twenty-one-year tenure, Judge Parker tried 344 capital cases and sentenced 160 men to death by hanging. Only seventy-nine were actually hanged; the rest died in jail, had their sentences overturned on appeal, or were pardoned. Parker favored the abolition of the death penalty but felt he had to adhere strictly to the letter of the law.

    The last execution by hanging occurred at the Paris (Logan County) jail on July 15, 1914. John Arthur Tillman had been convicted of killing his girlfriend, then putting her body in a well and filling the well with stones.

    The first man to die under the new law calling for electrocution to be used was Lee Sims from Prairie County. The last prisoner to be electrocuted was John Edward Swindler on June 13, 1990. Swindler was also the first execution since 1964.

    In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled capital punishment as practiced in Georgia to be unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia), a ruling that effectively suspended capital punishment laws throughout the United States. The Arkansas Gazette reported on June 30, 1972, that Old Sparky, the chair used for electrocutions in Arkansas, had been found stored in a closet at Tucker Intermediate Reformatory, saying, The diesel engine used to produce the high voltage for electrocutions is stored in the prison garage. The death penalty was reenacted in Arkansas in 1977 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976 affirmed the new procedures adopted by the State of Georgia.

    In 1983, the Arkansas General Assembly adopted lethal injection as the method of execution. Anyone convicted before that law was enacted could choose electrocution or lethal injection. Charles Singleton was the last inmate with that choice. He chose lethal injection and died on January 6, 2004.

    The Arkansas law provides that capital murder charges are to be tried in Circuit Court with mandatory review by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Conviction will result in one of two sentences: death by lethal injection or life in prison without possibility of parole. The trial is conducted in two phasesguilt/innocence and penalty. The jury must vote unanimously to impose the death penalty. Otherwise, the trial judge must impose life without parole.

    In 1993, the criminal code was amended to create a mitigating circumstance for mental retardation in capital murder cases. The prosecutor must prove that a person with an intelligence quotient (IQ) of sixty-five or less knows the difference between right and wrong. This change in the law occurred in large part due to public reaction to the execution of Ricky Ray Rector on January 24, 1992. Apparently not understanding his situation, Rector left a piece of pecan pie from his last meal and remarked that he would eat it later, after the execution.

    The governor has the power to grant clemency. Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, who declared a moratorium on executions when he took office in 1967, granted clemency to all fifteen men on Death Row on December 29, 1970. Clemency has been granted to a Death Row inmate only once since the death penalty was reestablished in 1977. Governor Mike Huckabee commuted the death sentence of Bobby Ray Fretwell on February 5, 1999. I had rather face the anger of the people than the wrath of God, Huckabee said of his decision.

    Records kept since 1913 show that 195 inmates have been executed in Arkansas: fifty-seven white males, one white female, 134 black males, one Hispanic male, and two male Native Americans. According to Marlin Shipman, The decade of the 1930s produced more state-sanctioned killing in Arkansas than any other decade during the twentieth century. Fifty-three men were electrocuted in the states electric chair. As of March 2010, forty-one men are on Death Row, which is located at the Varner SuperMax Prison south of Grady (Lincoln County).

    The death penalty continues to draw support from both political parties and a majority of the citizens of Arkansas. Bill Clinton returned from campaigning in the New Hampshire Presidential Primary in 1992 in order to sign the warrant for Ricky Ray Rectors execution. However, that support had begun to decline at the start of the twenty-first century as questions arose about fairness in regard to race or ethnicity and the possibility of executing an innocent person. In fact, the 2009 Arkansas General Assembly established a Legislative Task Force on Criminal Justice to study critical issues regarding major felonies including capital punishment.


  2. #2
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Prosecutor's Office Sees Most Capital-Murder Cases Since 1981

    The 12th Judicial District achieved an unfortunate distinction unmatched for more than 30 years, until a Fort Smith man was charged with capital murder last month.

    Until Thursday, three defendants faced capital-murder charges in the district in the same year for the first time since 1981, when the judicial district included both Crawford and Sebastian counties. Crawford County is now its own district, the 21st Judicial District.

    Both Michael Ray Underwood, 47, and Gregory Aaron Kinsey, 20, remained charged with capital murder, while Circuit Court Judge James Cox on Thursday acquitted James Saylor Herring, 35, of two counts of capital murder by reason of mental disease or defect.

    In 1981, five men faced capital-murder charges, with then-Prosecuting Attorney Ron Fields seeking the death penalty for each man.

    Fort Smith District Court Judge David Saxon, who was chief deputy prosecutor for the 12th Judicial District in 1981, said he believes he participated in the trials of all five men, but for sure remembers it as a bleak time.

    The office was really small and everyone was jumping through hoops, Saxon said. Everyone lost a lot of sleep and everyone was on edge until they (the trials) were over. But its still not really over (at the end of the trial); then there are years of appeals.

    Although the district covered two counties in 1981, the prosecuting attorneys legal staff was much smaller then, five attorneys versus 14 attorneys now.

    When Saxon left the prosecutors office after 13 years for the bench in 1991, the four men sentenced to death were still appealing their sentences.

    1981 Capital-Murder Cases

    Although five men were facing capital-murder charges in 1981, some of them committed their crimes earlier.

    Eugene Wallace Perry, 37, and 23-year-old Richard Phillip Anderson, were in custody on Jan. 1, 1981, and awaiting trial on two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Kenneth Staton, 50, and 24-year-old Suzanne Staton Ware, who were discovered in a workroom at Statons Jewelry Store in Van Buren on Sept. 10, 1980.

    A jury convicted Perry of capital murder and sentenced him to death July 27, 1981; he was executed Aug. 6, 1997. Anderson was convicted of the lesser charge of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

    On Dec. 10, 1980, Wilburn Anthony Henderson, 38, was arrested for capital murder in the Nov. 26, 1980, fatal shooting of 50-year-old Willa Dean ONeal at a used furniture store in Fort Smith she operated with her husband.

    Hendersons first trial ended in a mistrial on Sept 22, 1981. On Feb. 2, 1982, a jury convicted Henderson and sentenced him to death. On March 2, 1990, a U.S. District Court judge overturned Hendersons conviction and sentence, citing ineffective counsel. The 8th Circuit upheld the judges ruling the following year.

    Henderson was retried and convicted and sentenced to death a second time on Jan. 29, 1992. He was executed July 8, 1998.

    On. Jan. 5, 1981, 37-year-old Thomas Winfred Simmons kidnapped and killed Fort Smith Police detective Randy Tate, 33, husband and wife, 21-year-old Larry and 21-year-old Jawanna Price, and 28-year-old Holly Gentry.

    On Aug. 19, 1981, a jury sentenced Simmons to death. The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Simmons final appeal on Sept. 27, 1990, and on Dec. 31, 1990, Simmons committed suicide in his cell on death row.

    On Oct. 15, 1981, Marion Albert Mad Dog Pruett, 32, was charged with capital murder in the Oct. 12, 1981, abduction and murder of 30-year-old Bobbie Jean Roam Robertson, who he kidnapped from a Fort Smith convenience store, although he remained at large.

    Prior to killing Robertson, Pruett killed his wife and then kidnapped and killed a bank teller in Mississippi. After he killed Robertson and fled Fort Smith, Pruett killed two men in Colorado.

    Pruett was returned to Arkansas in 1982, after he was sentenced to death in Mississippi and two consecutive life sentences in Colorado. On Sept. 9, 1982, Pruett was convicted and sentenced to death for Roberstons murder. In 1983, he was sentenced to life in New Mexico for the murder of his wife.

    Pruett was initially sent to Mississippis death row, but his conviction there was overturned and he was sentenced to life at a new trial in the Mississippi slaying.

    He was returned to Arkansas on March 7, 1988, and executed April 12, 1999.

    Death Is Different

    Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue was a first-year law student and an intern in the 12th Judicial District prosecutors office in 1981, and did legal research on the Wallace case. Now with almost 30 years of legal experience, Shue has participated in 12 death penalty cases, 11 as a prosecutor and one as a defense attorney.

    Although the legal staff has doubled in the prosecutors office since 1981, capital-murder cases nonetheless exert significant pressure on the office, Shue said.

    Since the U.S. Supreme Court imposed a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in 1972, which it then lifted in 1976, Shue said the phrase death is different is consistent throughout high court opinions since that time.

    While the state is required to provide the defense with any and all evidence that could point to the innocence of a defendant, in death penalty cases, Shue said his office goes above and beyond, proving any information to the defense relating to the case, even if it doesnt have any relevance.

    Every bit of information we get, we pass it on. We err on the side of giving (the defense) everything, Shue said.

    Another legal difference in a death-penalty case is the number of pretrial motions.

    Normally a handful of pretrial motions are filed in any case, with one or two pretrial hearings if any are necessary, Shue said. In a death-penalty case, pretrial motions normally surpass 50 and multiple pretrial hearings are necessary.

    And although judges will sometimes allow verbal responses to motions in non-capital cases, all responses in death penalties cases from the prosecution and defense must be in writing, Shue said.

    Preparing and distributing juror questionnaires to prospective jurors ahead of jury selection also became normal practice in death-penalty trials in Sebastian County since they were first used in the 2003 capital-murder trial of Leonard Porter, who was sentenced to life in prison.

    Jury selection in death-penalty cases also differ from other murder trials, Shue said.

    In almost all other cases, the attorneys can ask a group of prospective jurors a group question. In death-penalty cases, jurors can be brought in as a group but each question my be posed directly to each prospective juror, Shue said.

    Of course the pressure created by the additional safeguards is secondary to the weight of the asking a jury to decide if someone should live or die, Shue said.

    While Shue sought the death penalty for Herring and filed notice with the court Aug. 22 he intends to seek the death penalty for Kinsey, Shue hasnt reached a decision in the Underwood case.

    - See more at: http://swtimes.com/news/prosecutors-....cXwXfWps.dpuf
    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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