by Jeannie Nuss
Posted 1/30/2013 03:38 pm
Updated 2 years ago
LITTLE ROCK - Death penalty opponents called on Arkansas lawmakers Wednesday to abolish capital punishment after Gov. Mike Beebe said earlier this month that he would sign legislation outlawing the punishment if it were to reach his desk.
No lawmakers have proposed abolishing the death penalty so far, but Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was important for legislators to hear from both opponents and proponents of the death penalty before discussing how to rewrite the state's lethal injection law that the Arkansas Supreme Court threw out last year.
"I thought it would be appropriate to, before we discuss the methodology of executions, that we discuss the humaneness of the death penalty itself," Hutchinson, R-Benton, said.
Academics, ministers and a former death row inmate spoke out against capital punishment during the judiciary committee meeting before lawmakers heard from a widow and the father of a slain police officer who spoke in favor of the death penalty.
"There's a lot of things in considering the death penalty, folks, but please, please keep in mind the fact that we make mistakes and innocent people can be sentenced to death and that's on all of our heads," said Ray Krone, a former Arizona death row inmate who has since been exonerated.
Elaine Colclasure, whose husband was killed in 1989, spoke in favor of the death penalty after she said one of the men who killed her husband went on to kill again in prison.
"I think that we've forgotten that there's justice, that some people are evil, just plain evil, and you cannot put evil people somewhere where they cannot hurt anyone else," Colclasure told legislators.
The discussion of the death penalty comes months after the Arkansas Supreme Court in June struck down a 2009 lethal injection law. The high court sided with a group of death row inmates who said the lethal injection law violated part of the state's constitution that deals with separating the branches of government.
That law said death sentences were to be carried out by lethal injection of one or more chemicals that the director of the Department of Correction chooses.
Republican Sen. Bart Hester of Cave Springs has proposed to change that 2009 law by spelling out how the correction department is to carry out executions. Hester's proposed legislation did not come up during Wednesday's committee meeting, but it could surface next week.
Arkansas has 37 death row inmates, but the state has not had any pending executions since the Supreme Court struck down the lethal injection law. The state last executed a death row inmate in 2005.
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