Law­maker sees no rush in ex­e­cu­tions

Waits for jus­tice for daugh­ter

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The Ar­kan­sas plan to ex­e­cute mul­ti­ple mur­der­ers over 11 days be­fore a lethal in­jec­tion drug ex­pires has been con­demned as a reck­less rush to judg­ment, but that’s not how Re­becca Petty sees it.

The Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tor has been wait­ing 17 years for Ar­kan­sas to put to death the man who mur­dered her 12-year-old daugh­ter. Even though he has been on death row since 2000, he isn’t one of the seven men sched­uled to die by lethal in­jec­tion from April 17-27.

“There are all these vic­tims’ fam­i­lies out there who have been — I don’t want to say ‘wait­ing,’ but who have had this hang­ing over their heads for the last two decades,” said Ms. Petty. “That’s how I look at it.”

Her daugh­ter An­dria Ni­c­hole Brewer was raped and stran­gled by an un­cle by mar­riage in May 1999, her body found af­ter a three­day search in the woods near her fa­ther’s home in ru­ral Ar­kan­sas.

The seven men now await­ing ex­e­cu­tion com­mit­ted their

mur­ders from 1989 to 1999. That means some vic­tims’ rel­a­tives have been wait­ing for jus­tice for 28 years.

“I don’t see it as rushed when a jury sen­tenced them to death two decades ago,” Ms. Petty said. “To say it’s rushed — from a vic­tim’s point of view, it seems like ‘it’s time.’”

Still, hers is some­thing of a voice in the wilder­ness. The com­pressed time frame has gen­er­ated na­tional out­rage from death penalty foes urg­ing Ar­kan­sas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son to stop the “as­sem­bly line” sched­ule, say­ing it vi­o­lates the pris­on­ers’ rights and in­creases the pos­si­bil­ity of mis­takes.

Even at this late date, no­body would be sur­prised to see one or more of the in­mates slip the noose. There were orig­i­nally eight men sched­uled to die this month, but a fed­eral judge last week granted a tem­po­rary re­prieve to Ja­son McGe­hee, say­ing he was en­ti­tled to a 30-day com­ment pe­riod af­ter the state pa­role board rec­om­mended clemency ear­lier this month.

A fed­eral judge is ex­pected to hear a fourth day of tes­ti­mony Thurs­day on a law­suit brought by the in­mates chal­leng­ing the drug pro­to­col and the ex­e­cu­tion sched­ule on the grounds that it vi­o­lates their rights to ef­fec­tive coun­sel.

The con­demned men re­ceived a boost from best-sell­ing au­thor and lawyer John Gr­isham, who called on the gov­er­nor in a Mon­day op-ed to aban­don the plan, say­ing “no death-happy state has ever dreamed of eight kills in such a short time.”

He’s right: No state has ex­e­cuted seven pris­on­ers in 11 days since the death penalty was re­in­stated in 1976, ac­cord­ing to the Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, but Ar­kan­sas of­fi­cials say their hand was forced by foes of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

Ar­kan­sas has been un­able to carry out ex­e­cu­tions since 2005 as a re­sult of law­suits chal­leng­ing the state’s lethal in­jec­tion pro­to­col. The le­gal bat­tle only ended in late Fe­bru­ary, roughly two months be­fore the drug Mi­da­zo­lam was set to ex­pire.

There’s no guar­an­tee that the state will be able to ac­quire quickly fresh sup­plies of Mi­da­zo­lam given that most U.S. and Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers no longer pro­vide them for ex­e­cu­tions as a re­sult of pres­sure from lib­eral groups and cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment op­po­nents.

Ar­kan­sas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Leslie Rut­ledge de­scribed the pris­on­ers’ law­suit as “an­other in a long se­ries of ef­forts to halt their law­ful ex­e­cu­tions, or at least de­lay them un­til af­ter one of Ar­kan­sas’ lethal in­jec­tion drugs ex­pires at the end of April.”

In­evitably, much of the fo­cus has shifted to the in­mates. The Fair Pun­ish­ment Project re­leased a re­port March 30 say­ing that all eight Ar­kan­sas in­mates were ei­ther abused as chil­dren, suf­fered men­tal ill­ness or in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity or re­ceived poor le­gal coun­sel.

“Taken to­gether, these cases present a foun­da­tional chal­lenge to the le­git­i­macy and in­tegrity of the death penalty in Ar­kan­sas,” said the project, whose fun­ders in­clude the lib­eral Tides Foun­da­tion. “The Gov­er­nor should de­clare a mora­to­rium on ex­e­cu­tions so these le­gal de­fi­cien­cies can be given a closer look, or else the Courts must in­ter­vene to stop these ex­e­cu­tions in or­der to pre­serve pub­lic con­fi­dence in the rule of law.”

At­tor­neys for Don Davis and Bruce Ward, who are slated to die Mon­day, filed a pe­ti­tion Wed­nes­day with the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court seek­ing to de­lay the ex­e­cu­tions on the grounds that the in­mates were de­nied ac­cess to in­de­pen­dent men­tal health ex­perts.

Ward stran­gled 18-year-old Re­becca Doss, a Lit­tle Rock gas sta­tion clerk, in 1989.

Davis shot 62-year-old Jane Daniel ex­e­cu­tion-style dur­ing a home-in­va­sion rob­bery in 1990 in Rogers.

Ms. Petty, 47, knows from ex­pe­ri­ence how quickly the tide can turn on death row.

On Jan. 6, 2004, she sat in an Ar­kan­sas prison await­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of Karl D. Roberts, her daugh­ter’s killer. Al­though he had in­sisted for years that he would not ap­peal his sen­tence, he changed his mind at the last minute and was granted a stay.

“Gov. [Mike] Huck­abee ended up sign­ing the death war­rant, and they said we could come to the prison, and they set the ex­e­cu­tion date, and at the very, very last minute, he de­cided that he wanted his ap­peal,” Ms. Petty re­called. “I mean, he was on the gur­ney. It was un­be­liev­able.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence would lead her to her life’s work: fight­ing for crime vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. On that day at the prison, she was stunned at how she was treated: She wasn’t al­lowed to wit­ness the ex­e­cu­tion in per­son, and only five of her rel­a­tives were per­mit­ted in the build­ing.

“When we got there, they took us off to the war­den’s of­fice, where they put us on a closed-cir­cuit feed to watch it. I was just like, ‘You’ve got to be kid­ding,’” Ms. Petty said. “The TV set they had was like from the 1950s, all green and grainy. I was just so stunned. When I came out of there, I was just fum­ing.”

On top of that, she said, “my fam­ily wasn’t treated well. They weren’t even al­lowed on the prison grounds. It was like 2 de­grees out­side, and my fam­ily was out­side in this lit­tle tent, freez­ing, and we were in­side in this cramped war­den’s of­fice, and I thought, ‘This is just crappy.’ It was so trau­ma­tiz­ing that I didn’t speak about it for 10 years.”

When she fi­nally told a friend about that day, he urged her to con­tact her state sen­a­tor and push for re­form. A bill on be­half of vic­tims’ fam­i­lies made it through com­mit­tee but died on the House floor.

The state sen­a­tor en­cour­aged her af­ter­ward to run for of­fice, and she did, win­ning a seat in the Ar­kan­sas House in 2014. Her bill, called Andi’s Law, passed in 2015 with­out a dis­sent­ing vote de­spite the op­po­si­tion of of­fi­cials with the state De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions.

“They just didn’t want it to be a big spec­ta­cle. They came up with, ‘We need to spend $5 mil­lion to build an ex­tra room for the vic­tim’s fam­i­lies,’ and I [said], ‘No, we’re not go­ing to waste the state’s money,’” said Ms. Petty. “‘You guys have prison guards. You house death row in­mates. If you can’t han­dle six vic­tim’s fam­ily mem­bers in a room with the me­dia, then you guys have a prob­lem.’”

Signed by the gov­er­nor in 2015, the law al­lows up to six fam­ily mem­bers to wit­ness the ex­e­cu­tion from an ad­ja­cent room, and up to 12 to watch from a pri­vate room hooked up to a secure satel­lite feed.

The na­tional at­ten­tion on the now seven ex­e­cu­tions has re­minded her how vic­tims’ fam­i­lies are treated, she said, of­ten ig­nored or ac­cused of be­ing “just out for re­venge.”

“I would tell peo­ple to please take a mo­ment to look at the vic­tims and their sto­ries, be­cause their lives were stolen,” Ms. Petty said. “Please take a mo­ment to re­mem­ber them. That’s how I would con­clude.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Seven pris­on­ers have been sched­uled to die in the Ar­kan­sas prison sys­tem as the state rushes to use an ex­e­cu­tion drug that ex­pires at the end of April. The plan has drawn the ire of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment foes, but vic­tims’ fam­i­lies are de­mand­ing jus­tice.

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