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As Executions Roll, Governor's Mansion Gates A Place For Singalong, Chitchat, Twitter

Bobby Ampezzan
Arkansas Public Media
Death penalty opponents and members of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty didn't put down their signs, their candles or their smart phones even to sing Amazing Grace.

Without any official program, anti-death penalty protesters busied themselves Monday evening at the gates of the Governor's Mansion with song and prayer. And Twitter.

"'The court reinstituted Marcell Williams' death sentence for procedural reason no more.' What? Hold on, let's figure out what's happening."

Laura Hardy said the thing that’s most irritated her the last couple of weeks of Arkansas executions has been the seemingly gleeful, baiting comments made on Twitter and elsewhere by Arkansas politicians. 

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty director Furonda Brasfield and Freddie Nixon (foreground) with Sharon Sweeney, Cas Rifkin and Karen Delavan (in back).

"What lifts me up? There's a lot of people who, all over the world, who're as upset as we are."

Jihad Muhammad stopped by but didn't stay all evening. He himself has served time on a murder charge.

"So I am absolutely against the death penalty. I believe that just like I was redeemed and reformed and restored and I’m out here being successful and helping people, I believe that those men have in them the same potential to be better. And when you're saying you're going to kill a man, you're saying that that person does not have the potential to be better. I don't believe that. So that's why I'm here."

The vigil keepers, perhaps three dozen in all, lit and re-lit votive candles with paper doily skirts handed out from a Little Caesars pizza box.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Madeleine Young, Cheryl Woodard and Stephanie Matlock

Stephanie Matlock says her reading of the New Testament commands her to abjure retribution. She doesn’t see a distinction between a street killing and one that takes place inside a prison by appointed staff.

"And I don’t know of but two sins that God said he won’t forgive you for. That’s blasphemy and self-murder. Other than that, you’re just to be forgiven. Ok?"

God, she said, picks "the worst of the worst" to use, and besides, who has any better testimony?

But Madeleine Young said not every vigil keeper is a Christian. She’s not a Christian.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Vicki Hatter of Little Rock introduces herself to Jihad Muhammad of Pine Bluff.

"We're not all doing this just because of what we think God has said about it," she said. "I'm here as someone who values human life, you know, not because of the Bible but because of people and what I know that they're worth."

The vigil keepers' next date together over pizza and candlelight is Thursday.

Will they be stood up by the courts?

They certainly hope so. 

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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