LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ governor said Friday he will spare the life of a death row inmate whom the state planned to put to death earlier this year, but he also set a November execution date for another convicted killer.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a proclamation scheduling a Nov. 9 execution for Jack Greene, marking the state’s first scheduled lethal injection since putting four men to death in April. The executions were the first in Arkansas since 2005.
The governor later said he planned to commute the death sentence of another inmate, Jason McGehee, who was among eight men originally scheduled for execution in April. The state scheduled those executions to occur before its supply of midazolam, a sedative used in the state’s three-drug lethal injection process, expired.
The state announced last week it had obtained a new supply of midazolam, and records showed the state paid $250 in cash for enough of the drug to conduct two executions. State law keeps the source of the state’s execution drugs secret, but the Department of Correction said the drug supply expires in January 2019.
The new drug supply was revealed after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asked Hutchinson to schedule Greene’s execution, noting he had exhausted all of his appeals. Greene, 62, was convicted of killing Sidney Jethro Burnett in 1991 after Burnett and his wife accused Greene of arson.
The governor did not comment beyond setting the execution date. Greene wasn’t among the four inmates temporarily spared by the courts from execution in April.
Greene’s attorneys argue that he is severely mentally ill, suffering from a fixed delusion that prison officials and his attorneys are conspiring to cover up injuries he believes corrections officers inflicted on him. The delusions cause Greene to twist his body and stuff his ear and nose with toilet paper to cope with pain, his attorneys said.
“In the coming weeks, it’s imperative that the appropriate decision makers consider whether the state should execute a man in such a feeble mental state,” Scott Braden, an assistant federal defender, said in a statement.
Braden argued it was unconstitutional to execute someone who cannot rationally comprehend the punishment. He also noted Greene has been in solitary confinement for more than two decades.
Prosecutors alleged Greene beat Burnett with a can of hominy before stabbing him and slitting his throat. Greene had three trials. Death sentences in his first two were overturned because prosecutors improperly used a separate court case as an aggravating circumstance.
Less than two hours after scheduling Greene’s execution, Hutchinson said he planned to commute McGehee’s sentence to life without parole.
McGehee was sentenced to death in the 1996 beating death of 15-year-old Johnny Melbourne Jr. Several people attacked the teenager, though co-defendants said McGhee did most of the beating.
“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,” Hutchinson said in a statement, adding that the disparity in sentences given to defendants in the case was a factor in his decision.
McGehee had faced an April 27 execution, but a federal judge put his execution on hold after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended clemency.
McGehee’s federal public defender, John C. Williams, said the governor “has used this power appropriately and wisely here. We are grateful for his decision to show mercy.”
The executions in April were Arkansas’ first using midazolam. Death penalty opponents say the drug is incapable of inducing unconsciousness or preventing serious pain.
The sedative has been used in several problematic executions. Kenneth Williams, one of the inmates Arkansas put to death in April using the drug, lurched and convulsed 20 times during his execution.
Hutchinson rejected calls for an outside investigation of the executions after Williams was put to death.
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