A CLOSER LOOK: At capital punishment

A Closer Look

Death Penalty Definition: Legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Capital punishment seems to be waning across the United States.

It is legal in 29 states, including Arkansas, and illegal in 21 states and DC.

Colorado may be the 22nd state to get rid of capital punishment. In March the Colorado Legislature passed a bill to do away with it effective July 1, 2020. It’s waiting for the governor’s signature. The three inmates who are on death row there will remain because the law does not make their sentence retrospective.

In May 2019, New Hampshire was the 21st state to abolish the death penalty, making it the ninth state in 15 years. There is one person who will remain on death row as the law only applies to future cases.

Death Penalty Information Center

A report by the Death Penalty Information Center shows that murder rates, including the murder of police officers, are consistently higher in death-penalty states versus states that have abolished it.

Death Penalty Information Center

Arkansas’ Department of Correction has 30 men on its death row as of 2018, however, the true number is 29 since the Arkansas State Supreme overturned Mauricio Torres’ sentence in 2019. The breakdown by race is about 50-50. There are 15 white males and 14 black males.

Since 1913 there have been nearly 200 executions, according to the Arkansas Department of Correction. The earliest execution on the list is Lee Sims, 21, Prairie County, for the crime of rape. Sims was put to death on September 9, 1913.

Current Arkansas criminal code calls for the death penalty or life in prison without parole upon a conviction of capital murder or treason. Up until January 1, 1976, people convicted of rape were subject to capital punishment. The Supreme Court’s 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. That Amendment reads: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines levied, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.”

The Amendment is usually viewed by opponents of the death penalty that it prohibits any form of execution. Death penalty supporters believe it allows any methods [of death] that is not cruel.

Most states require an anonymous jury verdict before the accused can be sentenced to death. In Arkansas, each juror must sign the verdict form.

In 1983, the Arkansas General Assembly decided to use lethal injection for executions.

The criminal code was amended in 1993 to include mitigating circumstances for mental retardation in capital murder cases. From the Encylopedia of Arkansas:

The prosecutor must prove that a person with an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 65 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 Rickey 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.

There was a lull in executions in Arkansas from 2005 until 2017.

Then eight executions in 10 days were ordered by Governor Hutchinson beginning April 17, 2017, because the drugs used for lethal injection were about to expire.

Only four happened.

The first three executions were stayed because of court rulings and one inmate was granted clemency.

  • April 20, 2017, Ledell Lee, 51, from Pulaski County, was executed.
  • April 24, 2017, Jack Jones, 52, from White County, and Marcel Williams, 46, from Pulaski County, were executed. That was the first double execution since 2010.
  • April 27, 2017, Kenneth Williams, 38, from Lincoln County, was executed.

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