Calling All Razorbacks

The State of Arkansas is in a jam, and only state legal residents willing to volunteer can get it out. What kind of jam? And volunteer for what?

A traffic jam. Specifically, on Death Row; and volunteer, to witness the executions.

First, two answers before you ask the questions that are already on your mind:

  1. Yes, you really have to be domiciled in Arkansas; and,
  2. No, you can only witness, you can’t throw the switch.

(We asked). Heh.

The State has eight murderers queued up to pay their debt to society this month, and is plumb out of death penalty witnesses.

The state of Arkansas is struggling to find enough volunteers to witness eight death row inmate executions scheduled in April. Witnesses are required to ensure that the execution is carried out according to law, but so far volunteers are scarce.

“It’s a very sobering thought,” says Bill Booker acting as substitute president of the Little Rock Rotary Club.

Why? How is this different from swatting a mosquito?

At Tuesday’s meeting Booker says after a presentation by Wendy Kelley, Director of the Department of Correction, she casually asked the audience to volunteer as citizen witnesses for the state’s upcoming executions. “Temporarily there was a little laugh from the audience because they thought she might be kidding,” says Booker.  “It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding.”

Hey, if Ms. Kelley is still having trouble, just put an ad on Craigslist. That’s how Soros does it when he needs warm bodies. In Arkansas, you’ll probably have plenty of warm bodies turning out to watch other warm bodies become cold bodies.

Volunteer witnesses, hell’s bells: you could probably sell tickets and plug any gaps in the corrections officers’ retirement fund.

Eight inmates are scheduled to receive the death penalty between April 17th and 27th.

State law says six to twelve citizen volunteers must be present at the executions in order for them to take place, but right now the state is short volunteers.

You have to wonder, Arkansas and all, if an idiot and a banjo were involved in the writing of this lunkheaded law. “Sorry, Jethro, your execution doesn’t count, on account of we was a witness short. So we’re gon’ hafta execute you again.”

“I could understand not even wanting to read about these occurrences let alone have to be in the room or watching,” says Michelle Frost, a Little Rock resident.  Frost is not sure how she feels about the death penalty, but is sure she would not want to witness an execution.

Say it with us, kids: “Mercy to murderers is violence to victims.”

Solomon Graves, spokesperson for the Department of Correction, says they are taking an informal approach to find those witnesses and are confident they will be able to do so by the set dates.

Solomon Graves! What a great name, one worthy of Dickens (or at least, Rowling), and bedamned if it isn’t the guy’s real name.

Marianne McKinney supports the death penalty.  She says “they made their decisions and have to suffer the consequences.”  McKinney believes the inmates on death row have been rightly convicted and would not mind witnessing an execution. “I know it may seem cold, but we need justice on our streets to protect us,” says McKinney.  “I don’t think it’d bother me at all.”

Your head’s in the right place, Marianne.

The Department of Correction says nothing prohibits a volunteer from witnessing more than one execution.

Collect ’em all! Some day it will be a category in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Attorney General’s office released a statement saying: “She’s fully committed to working with the Governor and the Department of Correction to ensure that the law is followed as executions are carried out.”

We still like the tickets idea. If that’s not in the law now, somebody light a fire under the legislature.

Finally, for any Razorback readers:

If you want to sign up to volunteer as a witness you can write to the DOC Director.

Arkansas Department of Correction
Attn: Director Wendy Kelley
PO Box 8701
Pine Bluff, AR 71611

via State Needs Volunteers to Watch Inmate Executions – Story.

27 thoughts on “Calling All Razorbacks

  1. Tom Stone

    Volunteering to watch someone else dispose of garbage?
    I’d rather go fishing.

  2. QuietMan

    “You have to wonder, Arkansas and all, if an idiot and a banjo were involved in the writing of this lunkheaded law.”

    Wonder no more: I live here and the precision of your statement is breathtaking.

    You actually have to send them a letter. No email. No phone. At least they haven’t asked ’em to appear in person in Pine Bluff. It’s more commonly known as Pine Box or Crime Bluff, hereabouts. If you lack combat experience and wonder what you’ve missed, c’mon down. We’re averaging a murder/week here, with three last week.

      1. QuietMan

        I’ll give you that considering I top off, check the truck, hit the latrine, and break out the rifle about 10 miles before I get to Memphis.

        If you have a CB, great entertainment is available by saying “Welcome to AR: Set you watch back 25 years” and listening to the meltdown.

    1. Quill_&_Blade

      Drugs? Meth? We have an area like that. Probably 5 years ago I did a job a ways out in the country. When completed, the owner said: “Whatever you do, when you leave, don’t turn left. There’s an area just past that bend inhabited by drug dealers. The police and fire department won’t respond there anymore. One night, there was a fire in a barn. the FD responded, and was fired upon. They left the barn to burn down. I had to install these wrought iron driveway gates because of the strangers coming in here.”
      I wondered about the veracity of the warning. Being that I wanted to make sure the check was good, I stopped at the nearest branch of the guy’s bank, on the same road IIRC. Still out in the country, mind you, and the place is more secure than a branch on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Usually don’t see that out in the sticks. I regarded it as evidence enough. Strange how there are things happening on the streets that you don’t hear about in the news. If I’ve seen a few, how many others are there?

        1. Quill_&_Blade

          Nawww, I encounter enough trouble as it is, don’t need to look for it.

  3. S

    Would live-streaming count as witnesses? The NSA could certify who was watching. Perhaps use the emergency breakthrough to force streaming on Obamaphones in high crime locales as a PSA….

  4. Tennessee Budd

    Will it work if I say that I “identify as” an Arkansan (or, in Twain’s lovely term, an “Arkansawrian”)?

  5. archy

    *** Happy anniversary, honey! Put these flowers in some water, and open your present.
    Then get dressed up real nice, I’m taking you out for the best dinner in town, and then some entertainment….

    Nope, not a movie. Not dancing either, but maybe later. No, I’m not going to tell you. What, and spoil the surprise….***

  6. BFD

    Why not use the other prisoners?
    (that’d be one hell of a “scared-straight” program)

    Why not use jury duty rejects?

    1. archy

      During the 1918 Finnish Civil War only about one death in four was what we’d think of today as a legitimate combat casualty. The others were prisoners who died in the really terrible conditions experienced by prisoners, or simply executed upon capture. and, since the forces of both sides were made up of untrained volunteers it was not uncommon for prisoners to be bayoneted by new rookies as a means of introducing them to the realities of their new profession. It sorted out the ones who had no stomach for the business at hand, and it saved ammunition that would otherwise be wasted in eliminating worthless prisoners who were a waste of good food. Some of them were kids about 14, until they became young men in a real quick sudden. It is perhaps worth remembering that when the Boy Scouts were founded, they were in training to be just that, young men who were good in the woods and could perform recon duties for the Army units to which they were assigned.

      The historical precedents of Finland and once-Great Britain offer opportunities for National Guard promotion boards, in Arkansas and elsewhere.

      Onni Kokko, 14 yrs., KIA, 1918, with Arvo Koivisto, 13yrs.:
      http://images.slideplayer.fi/10/2807468/slides/slide_8.jpg

  7. jim h

    dumb question here: is there any sort of vetting or program stipulations keeping folks out? if there was some sort of “must belong to Class A, be a member of Club X, be cleared through the chief LEO of the area, and be some other sort of ridiculous specification” clause, I can see why folks might not want to bother. or is it just anybody who lives there is ok?

    I just have a hard time figuring out how there would be, or even could be, a shortage of family members of victims, attorneys, doctors, etc., in this case.

  8. medic09

    Sorry, Hognose, but taking a human life is always way more serious than swatting a mosquito. (But I’m guessing that with your experience, you know about that pretty well.)

    And while I certainly agree with the way the sages of the Talmud formulated it, “he who is merciful to the cruel is destined to be cruel those in need of mercy”; I don’t think they meant to just brush off the sobriety needed to enact the death penalty.

    As for witnesses, it seems to me a civic duty. If people want a death penalty protecting them, they should help make it happen. And bearing witness always helps bring home the gravitas of the act. I can’t believe that if the pro-death penalty groups were directly contacted, that they wouldn’t come up with a campaign to steadily ensure the witnesses needed.

    1. archy

      ***Sorry, Hognose, but taking a human life is always way more serious than swatting a mosquito.***

      No. Everybody handles it differently. It’s never bothered me any more than the concern I have for a Kleenex once I’ve used it for its intended purpose. It does bother me when I see the non-participants who’ve suddenly become participants by virtue of artillery, airstrike or recon by fire, particularly when I was the one reconning. But often, it just doesn’t mean a thing, don’t mean nothin’.

      In the words of a real expert and close observer:

      *****Last summer I wrote that I hoped the end of the war could be a gigantic relief, but not an elation. In the joyousness of high spirits it is so easy for us to forget the dead. Those who are gone would not wish themselves to be a millstone of gloom around our necks.

      But there are so many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.

      Dead men by mass production-in one country after another-month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.

      Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous.

      Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.*****

  9. james

    It may not have occurred to you, but it is extremely relevant, that in a state with no shortage of former LEO’s, and retired court officials, that the retired enforcement and court communities are not lining up to fill those seats.
    This is not because they are prohibited from doing so, but rather because of a fact well known to them.
    Our law enforcement and criminal justice system is a bad joke and has been for decades.

    If there is a shortage of actual suspects, police will grab the nearest “guilty looking” party and toss them into the railroading station, aka the court system, where a prosecutor will tell them the nonexistent evidence against them is incontrovertible, and the public defender will give their papers a first glance as he drags into the courtroom after a three day drunk and tell them they do not want a jury trial (which cuts into his drinking time at the country club).
    He will tell them their only hope is to plead guilty, at which point they are screwed.

    How, though, could this happen in capital cases?
    The same way it happens in any case in this state.

    In my home county there have only been three jury trials in the last 30 years.
    Two were adjudicated as guilty, another was proven innocent by admission of guilt by the actual guilty party, who was appalled when it became clear to her the innocent defendant was being railroaded.

    Everybody here knows this is how Arkansas’ “justice system” works on a far too regular basis.
    Most here know at least one person who has been wrongly accused and victimized by this system, even if only for a petty misdemeanor.
    This doesn’t instill much confidence in the fairness or accuracy of the system.

    Yes, we have SOME good police.
    Yes, SOME court officials are honest.
    We also have some really, really, bad police.
    We have some really corrupted courts as well.
    Some cops are crims. Some courts are kangaroos.

    And I repeat:
    Everybody here knows this.

    ….and THAT is why even former LEO’s and court officials are not lining up to fill those seats.
    Having had the unique perspective of being part of the Arkansas “justice” system, they can’t say with any certainty if they will be watching a legally proper execution or a state sanctioned murder committed to close the books on a case.

    1. QuietMan

      Well said.

      Time will tell but my money is on them botching it, requiring paperwork and testimony.

    2. Quill_&_Blade

      Wow, that’s sobering. There’s a radio program called “This American Life”; about 6 months ago they had a very good episode about a state, Louisiana, I think, and their changes to the public defender program. It fits so well with what you’re saying. I’ll try to find it, I wish everyone here could hear it. (Here, hear!) Yeah, so it’s made in a way that’s very personable, it’ll draw you in, yet informative. The guy’s secretary is so believable, and likeable, like an awesome sister in law. At the time, I had been looking in the Old Testament (Isaiah?) and seeing a new to me understanding of justice for the poor. It was very timely, I found the archive and played it to my kids as a supplemental civics lesson.
      That state changed its laws to replace public defenders with attorneys chosen at random from a list. The lawyer in the episode had been a tort lawyer for 30 years, and was in no way prepared for a criminal case like the one he was called to do. Turns out, neither was the prosecution, and the rest…you’ll have to hear for yourself. Great stuff, you’ll like it.

    3. A.B. Prosper

      Thank you for this.

      And while yes the Talmud calls for blood, the US is a Christian society not Jewish and showing mercy even undeserved is a very Christian thing to do.

      J.R.R. Tolkien here

      Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.”

      On those grounds if I were in Arkansas, I’d refuse to participate in an execution in any form.

  10. TRX

    I was wondering what the ARDOC might have actually said, and if there was a press release. It looks like the first news stories started hitting on March 22, none of them linking to anything official. Nothing on the DOC or Pine Bluff unit’s web pages either.

    Maybe my web-fu sucks today, but something smells ‘off’ about that news story.

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