Panel advances bill to allow family of victim to view execution


LITTLE ROCK — A Senate panel Wednesday advanced legislation that would guarantee relatives of the victim of a capital crime the right to witness the execution of the person convicted of the crime.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed Senate Bill 52 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, over the objections of the state Department of Correction.

Prison spokeswoman Dina Tyler testified that the death chamber area at the Cummins Unit where condemned inmates are put to death is small and the execution is already witnessed by the attorney and spiritual adviser for the inmate, three members of the media and six to 12 citizen witnesses.

“If we were to put, as the bill requests, five members of the victim’s immediate family in that same room it would be most difficult,” Tyler said.

“Executions are difficult and very emotional for everybody involved. That would put the victim’s family next to the attorney who fought for years … to keep that inmate from having the sentence carried out, and next to the spiritual adviser,” She said. “It would also put them …. next to reporters, who because that is what they do … will record the family’s every movement.”

Tyler said relatives of the victim now are able to watch the execution from a closed-circuit TV feed and are given the option of whether they want to meet with the media.

Belinda Harris Richter, who said she once served on the California Board of Parole and that her parents were murdered in Stone County in 1981, spoke for SB 52. She said the family of victims should be given the option of whether they want to watch the execution.

“I don’t believe the Department of Correction staff knows how victims feel,” said Richter, an attorney who teaches crime victims rights classes at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Hester told the panel before the vote that he filed the measure at the request of a constituent in his district.

“This is simply about victim’s rights, and unless you have been there, you can’t possibly know what is going to help them with closure and to deal with this,” he said.

The bill goes to the Senate.