LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' parole board on Wednesday recommended that Gov. Asa Hutchinson extend mercy to one of eight inmates scheduled to die in an unprecedented series of double-executions this month.
Hutchinson is not bound by the board's finding that Jason McGehee's clemency request had merit. The Republican governor, who can intervene at any time before the execution begins, has not said when he will make a decision.
McGehee, 40, is scheduled to die April 27 for the death of Johnny Melbourne, Jr., 15, who had told police about a northern Arkansas theft ring. Prosecutors say McGehee, who had just turned 20, directed Melbourne's torture and strangulation in 1996.
With a key lethal injection drug expiring at the end of the month, the Arkansas Department of Correction hopes to execute eight men in a 10-day period beginning April 17. Only Texas has executed that many inmates in a month, doing it twice in 1997. Seven executions in a month would still be a record for Arkansas.
The board did not offer reasons behind its 6-1 vote, but Department of Correction Director Ray Hobbs spoke in favor of clemency for McGehee at a hearing Friday, saying he'd gotten to know the inmate while making his rounds in prison.
"He has learned his lesson, and he still has value that can be given to others if his life is spared," Hobbs said.
In his 40-minute appearance before the panel — he was allotted one hour — McGehee was remorseful and acknowledged his life was in others' hands.
"I regret my involvement in that whole night. I wish I could change what happened. John deserved to live. None of this should have happened. I honestly don't know if killing me would make up for it. The state already has my life and that's a fact," he said.
Melbourne's father asked the board to deny McGehee's clemency request.
"John didn't have this. Even though he was begging for his life and was hurting. He didn't have this and he begged for his life too. He didn't have y'all," the elder Melbourne said.
Board Chairman John Felts voted against clemency. He said McGehee's death sentence wasn't excessive considering the inmate had orchestrated the Aug. 19, 1996, attack. Several people beat and tortured the teenager at a house in Harrison, then bound him and drove him to an abandoned farmhouse outside Omaha, a town in northern Arkansas. He was later strangled while his hands were tied with an electrical cord.
Co-defendants said McGehee did most of the beating. His jury returned a verdict in 90 minutes, and it took five hours to decide on a death sentence.
In a separate decision Wednesday, the board said a petition by Kenneth Williams was without merit. Williams was condemned after escaping and killing a man who lived near the prison. Before his escape, he was serving a life term for killing a University of Pine Bluff cheerleader. Williams is also scheduled to die on April 27.
Five inmates set for execution this month have appeared before the panel, with board members ruling that clemency requests from four of them were "without merit." A hearing for a sixth inmate is scheduled for Friday; two inmates did not seek mercy.
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Posted on Wed, April 5, 2017
by By KELLY P. KISSEL, Associated Press