Death Penalty: Yes
Arkansas State Capitol. Photo by Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
1820 – First known execution in Arkansas, Thomas Dickinson hung for murder.
1913 – Arkansas replaces hanging with electrocution as its method of execution.
1967 – Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller declares a moratorium on executions
1970 –Governor Rockefeller grants clemency to all 15 men on death row
1972 – The Supreme Court strikes down the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia.
1973 – Arkansas passes a law reinstating capital punishment.
1976 – The Supreme Court reinstates the death penalty when it upholds Georgia’s statute in Gregg v. Georgia.
1990 – Arkansas resumes executions; abandons electrocution in favor of lethal injection as its method of execution.
1992 – Presidential candidate and Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton leaves the campaign trail to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, who was intellectually disabled.
2005 – Last execution in Arkansas to date.
2011 – Amid a nationwide execution drug shortage, Arkansas’ supply of one execution drug is seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
2012 – The Arkansas Supreme Court finds part of the state’s capital punishment statute unconstitutional because it delegates too much authority to the Department of Corrections in carrying out executions.
2013 – The Arkansas legislature rewrites its execution protocol and passes a law shielding the identities of its execution drug suppliers; the Department of Corrections announces its intention to use phenobarbital for executions.
2015 – Arkansas Supreme Court upholds new execution protocol; Governor Asa Hutchinson sets dates for eight executions. The Arkansas Supreme Court imposes a stay on executions while evaluating the constitutionality of the 2013 secrecy law.
Ricky Ray Rector
Rector was executed in 1992 for the murder of police officer Robert Martin. After shooting Officer Martin, Rector shot himself in the head in an apparent suicide attempt.
The suicide attempt destroyed his frontal lobe and left him severely brain damaged, rendering him incapable of understanding his pending execution. For his last meal, he left his pecan pie on the side of the tray, telling the guards who had come to take him to the execution chamber that he was saving it “for later.”
It took a team of five executioners over 50 minutes to find a suitable vein in which to inject the lethal cocktail. During that time, witnesses heard continued moaning from the inmate as he was jabbed over and over again with the execution needle.
Despite Rector’s inability to understand the criminal charges filed against him or his resulting death sentence, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton made of point of returning to Arkansas and overseeing Rector’s execution during his Presidential campaign, in order to show the electorate that he was not soft on crime.
In 1995 Barry Lee Fairchild was executed for the 1983 murder of Marjorie Mason. Ms. Mason had been raped and shot twice in the head. Acting on a tip from an unnamed informant now known to be inaccurate, the police surrounded Barry Fairchild and released their dog on him. He was bitten on the neck, side, and head. After being treated for the dog bites, he was questioned throughout the night and gave two conflicting confessions.
During his trial, Fairchild recanted his confessions and testified that Sheriff Tommy Robinson beat him and threatened to kill him if he did not confess. He testified that when he told the police he knew nothing of the crime, the sheriff hit him on the head with a shotgun and another man kicked him in the stomach. He said he had been rehearsed for twenty minutes on what to say on tape.
No physical evidence ever linked Fairchild to Mason’s rape or murder: no fingerprints on her belongings could be matched to his; a hat found near the crime scene and identified by witnesses as Fairchild’s contained no strands of his hair; semen found on the victim’s body was inconsistent with his blood type. Nonetheless, the jury found Fairchild guilty of rape and murder.
During subsequent appeals, thirteen men publicly disclosed that they too had been detained for questioning about the Mason murder and were tortured. They testified that they had been subjected to violent beatings, and that guns had been put to their heads while they were told to confess. One of these men reported that he heard deputies in the next room torture Fairchild into confessing.
During the fourth petition the judge found that the evidence showed that Fairchild was “not the one who shot and killed Ms. Mason,” but was an accomplice. As such, the death sentence was reversed, and a sentence of life in prison without parole was imposed in its stead.
In 1994, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, and without refuting the legal conclusion that the Arkansas capital punishment statute had been violated, the Appellate Court held that it was too late to make this argument. The death sentence was reinstated, and Fairchild became the eleventh Arkansan put to death under the state’s modern capital punishment statute.
Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, who declared a moratorium on executions when he took office in 1967, granted clemency to all fifteen men on death row in December of 1970.
Milestones in Abolition Efforts
· In 2009 a near-unanimous Arkansas General Assembly created the Arkansas Legislative Task Force on Criminal Justice. The Task Force's stated objective was to study judicial districts to determine if there is discrimination in how the most serious felonies, including capital cases, are handled and who is subject to these prosecutions. The Task Force was successful in identifying key areas where the state lacked adequate information gathering procedures.
· In 1993, nine years before the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of people with mental retardation, the Arkansas criminal code was amended to create a mitigating circumstance for mental retardation in capital murder cases. This was due in large part due to public reaction to the execution of Ricky Ray Rector in 1992.
Other interesting facts
Since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, Arkansas is the only state to conduct three executions on the same night. It has done so twice:
· On August 3, 1994, under Governor Jim Guy Tucker, the state executed Hoyt Franklin Clines, Darryl Richley, and James William Holmes.
· On January 8, 1997, under Governor Mike Huckabee, the state executed Paul Ruiz, Earl Van Denton, and Kirt Douglas Wainwright.
Many thanks to the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for contributing to this page.