Church of the Brethren
Rachel Gross, Director
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Liberty Mills, IN 46946


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DRSP News, Issue 13, May 2017

By Tara Collum

230 new pen pals in March; 142 in April.

In the midst of protest, global condemnation, and intense criticism, the state of Arkansas recently executed 4 men: Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams, and Kenneth Williams (see below). The executions of 4 men — Bruce Ward, Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, and Jason McGehee — have been stayed.

Alabama and Jury Override

  • New Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill to eliminate jury override. The controversial practice allowed judges to disregard a jury's recommendation of life in prison, and instead impose a death sentence.
  • Alabama was the last state in the country to use the practice.
  • The bill is not retroactive; however, Sen. Hank Sanders thinks it should be. If his bill is passed, 33 prisoners on Alabama's death row would be spared execution.

Let Gov. Kay Ivey know you support Sen. Hank Sanders and his efforts:

Alabama State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130
Phone: (334) 242-7100

Here is a brief look at the story of each man put to death in Arkansas:

Ledell Lee: Executed on April 20, age 51, on death row for 24 years.

  • Ledell Lee was sentenced to die in October of 1995 for the murder of Debra Reese, 26.
  • Lee was intellectually disabled, brain damaged, and suffered from fetal alcohol disorder.
  • At his trial the judge was having an affair with the prosecutor, and one of his attorneys was noticeably intoxicated during important hearings.
  • Lee always maintained his innocence. The ACLU began representing him weeks before his execution date with the help of the Innocence Project.
  • They were denied the chance to DNA-test key evidence. (While an almost identical request was approved for Stacey Johnson.)
  • Lee's conviction was based on a small drop of blood on his shoe, and a single hair analyzed with now discredited forensic methods.
  • Cassandra Stubbs of the ACLU wrote online that the hectic pace of executions violated "the individualized consideration that the Constitution and justice require and further overstep the bounds of basic human dignity."
  • In a statement Amnesty International said, "Today is a shameful day for Arkansas, which is callously rushing the judicial process by treating human beings as though they have a sell-by date."
  • Lee's last meal was Holy Communion.

Jack Jones: Executed on April 24, age 52, on death row for 22 years.

  • Jack Jones was sentenced to death in April 1996 for killing Mary Phillips, 34. He also attempted to kill her 11-year-old daughter Lacy.
  • In 2010 Gina Grimm was searching for her birth parents, and discovered Jones was her biological father.
  • Death Penalty Action helped raise funds to fly Grimm to Arkansas to meet her father for the first time.
  • Jones was an amputee, having lost a leg to diabetes. It took the execution team 45 minutes to find a suitable vein.
  • There were conflicting reports from witnesses about what happened in the death chamber. His lawyer said that at one point Jones was gulping for air, and characterized the execution as "torturous and inhumane."
  • Lynn Scott, Jones' sister, was denied her request to be a witness. She found out about the death of her brother in the parking lot of the Cummins Unit prison. (Arkansas Department of Corrections policy does not allow the family members of a condemned prisoner to witness an execution. Approved witnesses are state citizens, the victims' families, and members of the media. The condemned prisoner is allowed a lawyer and spiritual advisor.)

Marcel Williams: Executed on April 24, age 46, on death row for 22 years.

  • Marcel Williams was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Stacy Errickson, 22.
  • In the first double execution in almost 20 years, Williams was executed hours after Jack Jones.
  • Williams had suffered repeated childhood neglect, physical, and sexual abuse. His mother beat and burned him, and exchanged sex with her young son for food.
  • In a clemency hearing before the Arkansas Parole Board, attorney Bill James broke down in tears and apologized to Williams in video testimony. At trial he had been unaware of his responsibility to present mitigating evidence.
  • In 2007, Williams’ death sentence was overturned based on the hearing of the mitigating evidence, and it was recommended he either be resentenced or receive life without parole.
  • Another court overruled that decision. The federal court stated it could not rule on evidence not heard in state court.
  • Also testifying for clemency were his junior high English teacher, and Dina Windle, who Williams kidnapped and assaulted. Windle forgave him, and said she believed he had changed and turned his life around.
  • Williams apologized for his crimes and said, "I wish I could take it back, but I can't. To those I hurt, sorry is not enough."

Kenneth Williams: Executed on April 27, age 38, on death row for 18 years.

  • At the age of 19, Kenneth Williams was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1998 murder of Dominique Hurd, also 19. At age 20 Williams escaped from prison and killed Cecil Boren, 57. While attempting to evade police, Williams killed 24-year-old Michael Greenwood. He was sentenced to death in 2000. In 2005 he confessed to the unsolved murder of Jerrell Jenkins, 36.
  • Williams was intellectually disabled, with an IQ of 70.
  • The family of Michael Greenwood asked Gov. Hutchinson to give Williams clemency.
  • Having lost her father also, Kayla Greenwood felt a kinship with Williams’ daughter Jasmine.
  • Kayla and her family funded the flight to Arkansas for Jasmine and her daughter, giving the girl the chance to meet her grandfather for the first time.
  • In an essay featured on the Marshall Project, Williams wrote, "Since I am one of the last to be executed, there are some people who think that if one of the first executions is botched, it could prolong the lives of the others, including me. But I don't want to live only because someone else suffers that agony. Others suffering in order that I live for however much longer — that's no hope at all, not if I have truly learned my lesson to value other people's lives."
  • Kenneth Williams' lawyer described the execution as horrifying, and media witness said Williams coughed, jerked, and convulsed.
  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson maintained that the execution followed protocol and there was no need for any special investigation.
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