Arkansas can continue to sentence killers to death, but can't execute them, thanks to a 5-2 state Supreme Court ruling Friday that declared the Arkansas Method of Execution Act was unconstitutional.
Arkansas can continue to sentence killers to death, but can’t execute them, thanks to a 5-2 state Supreme Court ruling Friday that declared the Arkansas Method of Execution Act was unconstitutional.
Executions haven’t been happening anyway. Arkansas hasn’t carried out a death sentence since 2005, when Eric Randall Nance paid the ultimate penalty for murdering an 18-year-old Malvern cheerleader in October 1993.
Since then the convicted killers on Arkansas’ Death Row, with the help of their lawyers, have managed to delay justice.
Their latest success came in a lawsuit filed jointly by 10 killers against the Arkansas Department of Correction challenging a 2009 law that had been passed by the General Assembly in an attempt to correct deficiencies cited in a previous lawsuit over the lethal injection process.
Five members of the court agreed that in the 2009 law the Legislature “abdicated its responsibility” by giving the Department of Correction too much discretion to decide how to carry out lethal injections, thus violating the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.
The law specifies that the death sentence is to be carried out by lethal injection of “one or more chemicals, as determined in kind and amount in the discretion of the director of the Department of Correction.”
In a well-reasoned dissent, Associate Justice Karen R. Baker pointed out that the “separation of powers” argument had previously been rejected in similar death penalty challenges in other states.
Separation of powers in American government is intended to prevent one branch from usurping the powers of another by establishing a series of checks and balances. There cannot and should not be a wall between the three branches.
While the majority opinion written by Associate Justice Jim Gunter specifically said the court was not suggesting “what modifications to the statute would pass constitutional muster,” the decision did just that.
Lest we forget, the guilt of these 10 men was not contested. Following, from court records and news reports, are their crimes.
• Jack Harold Jones Jr., in 1995 raped and murdered a Bald Knob bookkeeper, Mary Phillips, and beat her 11-year-old daughter so severely that police first thought she was dead.
• Jason Farrell McGehee kidnapped, tortured, beat, strangled and burned John Melbourne, 15.
• Bruce Earl Ward in 1989 attempted to rape and then strangled an 18-year-old Little Rock convenience store clerk, Rebecca Lynn Doss.
• Marcel Williams was convicted in the 1994 rape and murder of Stacy Errickson, 22.
• Frank Williams Jr., fired by Clyde Spence in 1992 from a farm job, came back and killed Spence.
• Terrick T. Nooner, while robbing a Little Rock laundromat in 1993, shot to death a college student, Scot Stobaugh, 23.
• Kenneth Williams was convicted in 1999 of murdering a Lincoln County farmer, Cecil Boren, 57.
• Don W. Davis was sentenced to death for the 1990 execution-style slaying of Jane Daniel, 62, of Rogers.
• Alvin Bernal Jackson, already in prison for the 1990 murder of Charles Colclasure, got the death penalty after stabbing prison guard Scott Grimes to death with a homemade knife in 1995.
• Stacy Eugene Johnson in 1993 stripped, beat, strangled and slit the throat of Carol Jean Health, 26.
The Supreme Court justices need to figure out how to carry out the responsibilities of the judicial branch and administer justice to these men.
• • •
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.