Arkansas Governor Spares One Inmate, Sets Execution for Another

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday he will commute the death sentence of 41-year-old Jason McGehee, one of eight inmates originally set for execution in April when an expiring drug created a hurried lethal-injection schedule.

But while Hutchinson announced his intentions to spare one convicted killer’s life, he scheduled a Nov. 9 execution for Jack Greene, who is on death row for the 1991 killing of a married couple who accused him of arson.

Arkansas has a new supply of midazolam that expires in January 2019, setting the stage for the state’s first execution since four inmates died by lethal injection over two weeks in April.

Hutchinson, a Republican, said Friday’s decision to commute McGehee’s sentence from death to life without parole was based on the recommendation of the Arkansas Parole Board earlier this year.

“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. In addition, the disparity in sentence given to Mr. McGehee compared to the sentences of his co-defendants was a factor in my decision, as well,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

A Boone County jury convicted McGehee in January 1998 for the brutal murder and kidnapping of 15-year-old John Melbourne Jr. that he committed two years earlier with two others when he was 20 years old.

The state’s aggressive plan to execute eight inmates in pairs began to unravel when a federal judge blocked McGehee’s April 27 execution following the parole board’s clemency recommendation, which initiated a 30-day comment period that meant he could not be executed that month.

Appeals for the other three men whose executions were halted are currently pending.

McGehee’s attorney John C. Williams said his client’s youth at the time of the crime, and his rehabilitation while in prison make him deserving of clemency. McGehee is severely mentally ill and suffers from delusions, attorneys say.

“This is a just outcome given that Jason’s equally culpable co-defendants are serving sentences less than death,” Williams, an assistant federal public defender, said in a statement. “Jason’s case offers a prime example of why clemency is a necessary part of capital sentencing. The governor has used this power appropriately and wisely here. We are grateful for his decision to show mercy.”

The presiding judge in McGehee’s case has recommended clemency, but the Boone County prosecutor and sheriff have raised objections, according to the governor’s office.

Attorneys for Greene are trying to stop his November execution on the basis that he too suffers from severe mental illness.

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