Death Penalty Still Supported in Arkansas

Later this year New Hampshire is expected to become the seventh state in seven years to abolish capital punishment.

But there’s no reason to think Arkansas could join the 19 states that have no death penalty.

In order to strike down capital punishment in a given state, typically its legislature would have to pass a bill and then its governor would have to sign it, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center of Washington, D.C., a nonprofit that provides information on the death penalty.

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan had indicated before her election that she would sign such a bill, Dieter said.

But Arkansas’ leading gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson, both support the death penalty.

“Mike Ross believes capital punishment should remain a sentencing option to juries in the state of Arkansas for people convicted of the most heinous crimes,” Ross’ spokesman Brad Howard said in an email to Arkansas Business.

Hutchinson also had a similar response.

“As a former federal prosecutor, I understand that there are certain heinous crimes that justify the use of the death penalty,” Hutchinson said in an email to Arkansas Business. “I support the death penalty when there are sufficient aggravating circumstances that justify this ultimate punishment.”

Dieter said the trend of abolishing capital punishment has gained momentum across the country because of the mistakes that have come to light that freed prisoners who turned out to actually be innocent.

In addition, it takes years before an inmate is executed. Arkansas hasn’t executed an inmate since Nov. 28, 2005.

Arkansas hasn’t released any condemned prisoners because they have been proven innocent. But the wait for executions is long. There are currently 33 people on death row in Arkansas, and one of them, Roger Coulter, 54, has been there since 1989.

“There’s so much delay [in having an execution], it’s a disservice to the families of the victims,” Dieter said. “I think all of that prepares the way for a different consideration, not whether the death penalty is right or wrong, [but] whether it works.”