LITTLE ROCK — A man who spent 10 years on death row in Arizona before being found innocent and the father of a Trumann police officer slain in 2011 expressed divergent views on the death penalty during a legislative hearing Wednesday.
Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee did not pertain to particular legislation, although the panel did endorse legislation Wednesday to allow family members of victims to witness an execution of the person convicted of the crime and later will take up a measure to set methods for carrying out the death penalty.
Lawmakers asked few questions during nearly two hours of often poignant testimony on both sides of the issue.
Ray Krone, who was convicted twice for the 1991 slaying of a Phoenix bartender, said he spent more than 10 years on Arizona’s death row before he was freed after DNA evidence proved his innocence. He urged the committee to oppose the death penalty in Arkansas.
Krone told lawmakers there is always the possibility for a mistake, noting his distinction as the 100th death-row inmate to be exonerated because of new evidence.
In his case, the new DNA evidence was obtained when someone in the Arizona crime laboratory entered a DNA sample found at the crime scene into a national data base and it matched another Arizona man already in prison for sexually assaulting a child. That man also had a previous rape conviction, Krone said.
“Human nature, we make mistakes,” said Krone, who now travels the country talking about his ordeal and the errors and mistakes that can be made when sentencing someone to death.
“Now there’s 142 exonerations in our country,” he said. “One hundred and forty-two men and women who were sent to death row like me, who had moms and sisters and brothers, who had media coverage calling us monsters, who had prosecutors and police officers sitting there saying, ‘I know they did it, they confessed to it.’”
Donald Schmidt, whose son, Trumann Police Officer Jonathan Schmidt, was shot and killed after making a traffic stop in 2011, urged lawmakers to support the death penalty.
Jerry Lard of Trumann was convicted last year of killing Donald Schmidt and was sentenced to death.
Donald Schmidt said he wife cries and prays every morning and afternoon for their son.
“We miss our son so much that we cannot allow people that try, convict and execute our officers of this great state … to be able to get off death row,” he said.
He said Lard shot his son three times and after running out of bullets, he picked up his son’s service weapon.
“As (my son) sat there and told him, ‘I have three children, please, please don’t shoot me again,’ (Lard) picked up my son’s pistol … and shot him point blank range,” Donald Schmidt said. “Jerry Lard deserves the death penalty and I hope to God the state of Arkansas carries it out.”
Laurent Sacharof, who teaches courses in criminal law and capital punishment at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock law school, told lawmakers that it costs more money to house a death-row inmate than a regular inmate sentenced to life in prison.
“The death penalty costs far more than the alternative, according to some studies roughly $1 million more per case,” Sacharof said.
Also speaking against the death penalty was Didi Sallings, executive director of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission.
Tom Tatum, the 15th Judicial District prosecutor, said prosecutors should have the death penalty as an option.
“I think it’s an effective tool,” he said, adding it is sometimes used during plea negotiations. “If death penalty is not an option, I don’t believe you’ll see the pleas for life in prison that you currently see, or even the pleas for 40 years because that’s their maximum exposure to a jury, so there is no incentive on the part of a criminal defendant to enter that plea.”
Elaine Colclasure of Little Rock, whose husband Charles was murdered in 1989, also spoke in favor of capital punishment.
Alvin Jackson, who was 19 when Charles Colclasure was slain, was convicted with nephew Charles of the killing and both were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Six years later, Alvin Jackson was serving his time at the Tucker Unit when he was charged in the death of prison guard Sgt. Scott Grimes. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
“I cannot tell you the pain and suffering that this one man has caused all these families, Scott Grimes’ family, my family,” Elaine Colclasure said Wednesday.
“Some people are evil, just plain evil and you cannot put evil people where they cannot hurt everyone else,” she said. “I know that everyone is looking for a humane way of execution. I don’t know the answer to that, and so I leave it up to you. But I think you get to a point where you know that life without parole is not enough.”
Currently, 37 inmates are on death row in Arkansas. The last execution in the state occurred in November 2005.