AG seeks execution dates for seven death-row inmates


LITTLE ROCK — Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked Gov. Mike Beebe on Friday to set execution dates for seven convicted killers sentenced to death.

Six of the death-row inmates are plaintiffs in a legal challenge of Arkansas’ new lethal-injection law. The state Supreme Court recently declared their stays of execution from a previous case challenging Arkansas’ old lethal-injection procedure were no longer in effect.

In separate letters to Beebe naming each death-row inmate, McDaniel requested that the governor set execution dates “because there is currently no stay of execution in place regarding … conviction, sentence or the current lethal-injection protocol.”

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor would set the execution dates but would not set more than one execution on any particular day.

“It’s obviously going to take some time and planning. We will work with the Department of Correction,” DeCample said.

He said Beebe would order the death sentences be carried out despite telling the Political Animals Club in January that he would sign a bill outlawing the death penalty in Arkansas if the Legislature sent him legislation. Beebe also said at the time he would fulfill his duty as governor to set executions, DeCample noted.

Two bills to abolish the death penalty in Arkansas were filed during this year’s legislative session, but neither won approval.

No inmate has been put to death in Arkansas since 2005.

On April 26, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of six of the seven condemned killers for whom McDaniel is seeking execution dates. The suit challenges Arkansas’ new lethal-injection law, adopted this year in response to a state Supreme Court decision that declared a 2009 law unconstitutional.

Death-row inmates Stacey Johnson, Jack Jones, Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Kenneth Williams and Marcel Williams had been under stays of execution that the Supreme Court granted in 2010 while the inmates challenged the constitutionality of the lethal-injection procedure in the 2009 law.

The court overturned that law, ruling that it gave the Department of Correction too much discretion in choosing how to carry out the procedure.

Act 139 of this year set new protocols and procedures for prison officials to use in putting prisoners to death. The attorney general’s office petitioned the Supreme Court to lift the stays of execution in March, shortly after Act 139 became law, arguing that the new law removed the issues that the inmates had challenged.

Last month, the high court declared the stays of execution were no longer in effect and said the inmates would have to go to circuit court if they wanted to challenge the new law.

Kenneth Williams was sentenced to death on Aug. 30, 2000, for the Oct. 3, 1999, slaying of 57-year-old Cecil Boren after be escaped from the Cummins Unit at Varner. He had been serving a sentence of life without parole for the slaying of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique “Nikki” Hurd in December 1998.

Jeff Rosenzweig, a Little Rock lawyer who filed the suit last week on the inmates’ behalf, said Friday he would seek to block any execution dates Beebe sets.

“I’m assuming the governor will set some sort of dates. If and when he does, we’ll move to stay” pending the outcome of the legal challenge of the new law, Rosenzweig said.

The lawsuit contends the new law violates death-row inmates’ right to die quickly by allowing prison officials to use a slow-acting barbiturate in a mix of chemicals for lethal injections.

The law in effect when the crimes were committed required the state to use fast-acting chemicals, and the new law violates “the well-settled state law principle that a sentence must be in accordance with the statutes in effect on the date of the crime,” according to the lawsuit.

McDaniel also sought an execution date for death-row inmate Don Davis, who is not a party in the lawsuit.