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Govenor Spares One Inmate, Sets Execution Date For Another

Jason McGehee, left, will be offered clemency, while an execution date has been set in November for Jack Greene, right.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has spared the life of one death row inmate on the same day that he set an execution date for another.

Following a routine 30-day comment period, the governor announced Friday that he’ll grant clemency to Jason McGehee.  McGehee was one of eight Arkansas inmates scheduled for execution in April, and the first to have his lethal injection stayed by a court.

Anti-death penalty activists argued that McGehee’s age (21) at the time of the crime ought to be considered, as well as the fact that two alleged accomplices in the beating death of John Melbourne, Jr., 15, in 1996 were given life sentences and not the death penalty.

“In making this decision I considered many factors including the entire trial transcript, meetings with members of the victim’s family and the recommendation of the Parole Board.  In addition, the disparity in sentence given to Mr. McGehee compared to the sentences of his co-defendants was a factor in my decision,” the governor wrote in a statement.

McGehee will now serve life without parole, which was the same sentence given to the two other defendants in the Melbourne case. The trio was accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing the young man after he told police about their involvement in a theft.

The clemency decision was announced on Friday, shortly after the governor set an execution date for another inmate, Jack Gordon Greene.

The 62 year old is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 9 for killing his brother and a preacher in 1991. Federal public defenders have already begun laying the groundwork for appeals; Greene, they say, is severely mentally ill. He suffers from delusions, such as one in which his spinal cord has been removed from his body.

The next scheduled execution drew a quick response on Twitter.  Anti-death penalty activists parroted the public defenders office, saying he is severely mentally ill and therefore ineligible for execution.  Meanwhile, death penalty proponents applauded the Hutchinson and the state.

Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) tweeted, "Outstanding news. Time to continue the march toward #justice."

In April, Arkansas drew national and international attention for a wave of executions. Eight were scheduled in 11 days, though ultimately it was four in 8 days. At the time, the state argued that it needed to use an expedited execution schedule because its lethal injection drugs were set to expire on May 1 and that it would not be possible to obtain more.

The state has now acquired more of the drugs used in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail.  By law, it does not have to provide specifics about when or where those drugs were purchased, though reporting to date suggests department chief Wendy Kelley picked up the drugs herself and paid cash for them.

Greene’s execution, if it takes place, would be the fifth in Arkansas in 2017.  Neighboring Texas, by comparison, has also carried out five executions this year, though they have more planned. 

The most recent U.S. execution took place Thursday night when Florida put Mark James Asay to death by lethal injection.  Asay, a self-identified white supremacist, was convicted of killing a black man and another man who was dressed as a female prostitute in 1987.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

Ann Kenda joined Arkansas Public Media in January 2017 from Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and previously worked in public radio, commercial radio and newspaper in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She focuses on health, justice, education and energy as part of the Arkansas Public Media team. Her stories can be found on the airwaves, and social media.
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