Arkansas Death Row Inmate Freed After 17 Years

Damien Echols was freed from death row and two codefendants were freed from prison in Arkansas on August 19 after almost two decades of maintaining their innocence for the murder of three children in 1993. Echols, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, were granted an opportunity to enter a special plea in which they continued to assert their innocence but acknowledged that the state could likely convict them again in a retrial. DNA evidence that emerged after their trial did not match them to the scene of the crime. The defendants, who came to be known as the West Memphis Three (pictured) were convicted of the 1993 murders of three 8-year old Cub Scouts.  Misskelley is borderline "mentally retarded," and confessed to the crimes after a nearly 12-hour interrogation.  Misskelley implicated Echols and Baldwin, though portions of his confession did not match details of the case.  Echols was sentenced to death, and Baldwin and Misskelley were given life sentences.  All three were credited with time served and released. 

States Engage in "Swap Club" to Obtain Lethal Injection Drugs

In what was described in the New York Times as a "legally quesionable swap club," states searching for a scarce execution drug have gone to great lengths to obtain sodium thiopental for carrying out their death sentences.  In Arkansas, a deputy director of the Department of Corrections revealed that states often shared their supply of sodium thiopental with each other. Wendy Kelly, who has personally traveled to obtain drugs from other states, said, “I went wherever they had them. As best as I’m aware, the agreement my director had with other directors, any time there was an exchange, was that there would be a payback when needed.” Arkansas gave the drug to Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee free of charge, and obtained the drug from Texas.  Last September, Arizona ordered a shipment of lethal injection drugs from overseas and worked closely with U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration to prevent the shipment from being delayed at the border. The shipments were labeled as being for veterinary use, perhaps to avoid tighter scrutiny.

DPIC Analysis: What is the Most Executions Conducted in the U.S. in the Shortest Time Span?

Top row, from left to right: Bruce Ward, Marcel Williams, Jason McGehee, and Kenneth Williams. Botton row, Stacey Johnson, Ledell Lee, Don Davis, and Jack Jones. Photos by Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Jurisdictions with no recent executions

Although the United States is considered a death penalty country, executions are rare or non-existent in most of the nation: the majority of states—31 out of 50—have either abolished the death penalty or have not carried out an execution in at least 10 years. An additional 6 states have not had an execution in at least 5 years, for a total of 37 states with no executions in that time. Three additional jurisdictions (the District of Columbia, the Federal Government, and the Military) have not had an execution in at least 10 years.

Arkansas Supreme Court Orders Review of 1993 Capital Case

On November 4, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered evidentiary hearings to consider whether newly analyzed DNA evidence should result in a new trial for Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin, who were convicted of the 1993 murders of three West Memphis Cub Scouts. Echols was sentenced to death and the other defendants received life.  The results of the DNA tests on evidence from the crime scene excluded Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley as the sources. The high court also ordered an examination of claims of misconduct by the jurors. According to defense lawyers, Misskelley’s confession was not introduced at Echols' trial, but the jurors considered it anyway. The state Supreme Court had previously upheld Echols' conviction in 1996, when DNA testing was not available because of technical limitations. The case of the "West Memphis Three," a name used by their supporters, has attracted attention from the national media and celebrities. In August, a rally in Little Rock to support Echols featured actor Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks.

ARKANSAS: Convention backs death penalty abolition; bishop offers new vision for diocese

February 28, 2008

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, meeting February 22-23 for its 136th Diocesan Convention hosted by the state's Northeast Convocation and St. Mark's Church, Jonesboro, heard Bishop Larry R. Benfield offer a new vision for the diocese.

Legislative Activity - Arkansas

  • In April 2001, Governor Huckabee signed a law providing for Defense Counsel Standards and DNA testing.

Condemned Prisoner Treated and Executed

Psychiatric Times
March 2004  Vol. XXI  Issue 3

Condemned Prisoner Treated and Executed

Commentary by Alan A. Stone, M.D.

On Jan. 6, the state of Arkansas executed Charles Singleton by lethal injection. His death went unnoticed by the national media, but it will be remembered and discussed in the years ahead by medical ethicists and everyone else interested in the intersections of human rights, psychiatry and law.

Singleton by all accounts had become psychotic during the 24 years he