For a session that was supposed to be dominated by Medicaid, the first three weeks at the capitol have produced more big ticket stories than anyone expected. First, there were the gun bills and resolution followed closely by hotly debated abortion bills, so I suppose, it's only fitting that capital punishment make an appearance as well.
A Little Background
For those who don't know, Arkansas law allows for capital punishment in certain cases but, as of right now, the state cannot enforce it. So, the state can sentence folks to death just not put them to death. That's because the state supreme court struck down the law which gave the Department of Corrections the ability to determine by what means a person is executed. The supreme court determined that responsibility could only legally be in the hands of the legislature.
Back to the Beginning
Before making any new laws about capital punishment, Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeremy Hutchinson determined the committee should first re-evaluate the ethics of the punishment. That's what they did in a marathon committee meeting on January 30. Folks for and against the punishment crammed into the room to speak to lawmakers. The group against included Ray Krone, a former death row inmate and the 100th person exonerated and following DNA evidence. There was also emotional testimony for the death penalty given by Donald Schmidt, the father of deceased Truman Police Officer Jonathan Schmidt. Donald testified that his son's convicted murderer deserves the death penalty.
And still, nothing
After the committee hearing, everyone expected Senator Bart Hester to run his bill fixing the law struck down by the court and reinstating a method of execution in Arkansas, but he hasn't. In fact, the SB52 has been withdrawn from the committee altogether. There's no word yet on why. On a different note, Governor Mike Beebe who had been in favor of the death penalty recently told reporters that he would consider signing into law a bill banning executions in the state. His change of heart apparently comes after actually having to sign death warrants during his time as governor.
Not the last we'll hear about this?
I'm not sure yet, but check back soon for any updates.