Members of the Arkansas Parole Board hear testimony from the survivors of two murder victims Friday, March 24, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark. Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee have asked the board to recommend that Gov. Asa Hutchinson grant them mercy and commute their death sentences. Johnson and Lee are set to die April 20 amid a series of four double-executions. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

Arkansas board urges rejection of 3rd execution clemency bid

March 29, 2017 - 7:02 pm

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Parole Board recommended Wednesday that an inmate's request to be spared from lethal injection be rejected, the third clemency bid knocked down this week as the state prepares an unprecedented plan to conduct four double executions over 10 days in April.

The board ruled by a 5-2 vote that Marcel Williams' clemency request was without merit, though the ultimate decision rests with Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The Republican governor has scheduled all eight executions before Arkansas' supply of midazolam, a sedative the state plans to use as one of three drugs in the executions, expires at the end of April. Arkansas hasn't conducted an execution since 2005.

Hutchinson didn't indicate when he would make a decision.

"With the long history of review in these cases by both state and federal courts, I would certainly give deference to the recommendations of the parole board, but I always review these cases independently as well," he said in a statement.

Wednesday's decision means the board has now rejected three of the five inmates who asked the board to spare their lives. Hearings on the two remaining clemency requests are set for Friday. The remaining three men scheduled for execution have not requested clemency.

"We appreciate the Board's consideration of Mr. Williams's request for clemency," Jason Kearney, Williams' attorney, said in an email. "We do not agree with their findings, however, and look forward to appealing directly to Governor Hutchinson."

Williams, 46, was convicted of raping and suffocating Stacy Errickson in 1994. Prosecutors say Williams abducted the young mother when she stopped for gas in Jacksonville, drove her to various ATMs and forced her take out about $350. Police found her hosiery and lunch cooler at a storage facility. Her beaten and bound body was found in a park two weeks later.

Williams confessed to the killing, saying during his clemency hearing Monday that he takes responsibility.

"I wish I could take it back, but I can't," Williams told the board.

The rejection came as two new bids to halt the executions were filed, adding to a flurry of state and federal challenges to the execution plan.

Convicted murderer Stacey Eugene Johnson asked the state Supreme Court Wednesday to stay his execution scheduled for April 20. The Parole Board on Monday recommended Hutchinson reject clemency bids by Johnson and Ledell Lee, who's also scheduled to die April 20.

Johnson asked justices to allow him to seek new testing of evidence from his conviction in the 1993 death of Carol Heath. The evidence includes hairs found at Heath's apartment.

Bruce Ward, who is set to die April 17, asked a Jefferson County judge in a separate filing to halt his execution. Attorneys for Ward, who was convicted in the slaying of Rebecca Lynn Doss, said the inmate has schizophrenia and has no rational understanding of his impending execution.

"Since learning that Defendant Hutchinson had scheduled his execution for April 17, 2017, Mr. Ward has remained steadfast in his belief that he will walk out of prison," the filing said.

Other challenges to the executions include a federal lawsuit that argues the timetable is depriving them of a fair clemency process. The inmates have also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision not to review a state court ruling backing Arkansas' lethal injection law.

Arkansas hasn't carried out a double execution since 1999. While Texas has executed eight people in a month — twice in 1997 — no state in the modern era has executed that many prisoners in 10 days.

Nearly two dozen former prison officials sent Hutchinson a letter Wednesday urging him to reconsider the multiple execution schedule, citing concerns about the stress on staff and risk of errors. Hutchinson said the Arkansas prison system was satisfied with the current schedule and confident in its ability to carry out its protocols.


Associated Press Writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report.


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