18 April 2017

Timeline of a Stay of Execution in Arkansas

On April 17, 2017, I was present in the death house compound of Arkansas's Cummins Unit with the media, representing the Catholic Worker, in anticipation of the scheduled execution of Don Davis, who was sentenced to death in March of 1992 for the 1990 murder of Jane Daniel.

Mr. Davis came within six hours of execution in 2010 before he was spared by the state Supreme Court, and had several other stays of execution in addition to that (1992, 2006, 2007, 2015 and now 2017).

Despite the ruling two days prior by a federal judge that stayed the execution of Mr. Davis, the State of Arkansas remained confident that they would be able to get the stay dissolved by a higher court and proceed with the execution as planned. This included moving the prisoner to the Cummins death house unit in advance of the execution date, providing visits with a chaplain, and taking his order for his last meal.

The following is a timeline of observations, commentary and photographs from what transpired that night in Arkansas as the State fought for it's ability to execute the first of what it hopes is several prisoners this month before one of their lethal drugs expires on April 30.

On a personal note:  The chaos, the rush, and the constant lack of reliable information last night made it all the more clear that Arkansas can't handle one execution, let alone a rapid series of them.  I literally saw prison staff RUNNING in the 11:00 pm hour to try to pull this all off before the midnight deadline. I hope these photos give some sense of the roller coaster that both victim and prisoner families, prison staff, lawyers, press and the human rights community was put through. And for what gain? The State of Arkansas is already preparing to do it all again on Thursday. Twice.

5:05 – State Police and Corrections Officers outside the prison entrance as media arrive.
5:37 – Corrections Officers begin arriving for their shift that will last through the night.
Included in the press packet passed out at the prison, a copy of Mr. Davis's execution warrant is included. It begins with “TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS COME – GREETINGS:”.
5:41 – Department of Correction's Public Information Officer Solomon Graves informs the media who are gathered in a waiting room that the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted the stay of execution imposed two days previously by a federal judge. The State will continue moving forward.  Then at 6:50 – Mr. Graves addresses the media to say that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the case, and that the execution will be delayed until that decision is handed down.
7:00 – A wall clock in the prison waiting room reads what was supposed to be the time of execution.  At 8:05, Mr. Graves again addresses the media to say that the State is still moving forward with the preparations while the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates.

Below the clock is the spread of food provided to the media: sliced deli meat sandwiches, a tray of condiments, and a large sheet cake with strawberry frosting. Mr. Davis also had strawberry cake for his last dessert.
A couple of hours later at 10:43, Mr. Graves and J.R. Davis (Communications Director for Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson) address the media to say there are no updates from the Supreme Court and fields questions from reporters about the timeline of what is expected, given that the death warrant expires at midnight – just over an hour from this time. The press focus on the question: what constitutes meeting the midnight deadline... does the prisoner have to be tied down by midnight? Pronounced dead? Drugs injected? Neither representative appears to know the answer but stress that there is still time to carry out the execution. At 11:12,  J.R. Davis (pictured) says that the Supreme Court is “very close” to a decision, and the Department of Corrections is moving the prisoner into place.
At 11:13 Mr. Graves tells the media that he will return in five minutes to select the media witnesses for the execution. Only one spot on the three-person media witness team is open to TV and radio outlets. The journalists who are interesting in witnessing circle up to meet to see if there is consensus about who will witness.

1:20 – With no agreement as to who will witness, TV and radio journalists put their names into a bowl, and Mr. Graves draws the one who will fill the spot (pictured below).
11:25 – J.R. Davis checks his phone about updates from the Court.
11:26 – with no news, the three media witnesses are escorted out of the waiting room to a waiting car for transport to the execution chamber.
11:36 – Mr. Graves waits by a phone for the court ruling.
11:48 – The phone never rings, but an unidentified woman associated with the State, approaches Mr. Graves and whispers into his ear. He leaves the room and comes back within a minute with the three media witnesses and announces that the U.S. Supreme Court has halted the execution.
11:54 -  J.R. Davis addresses the media to express the Governor's Office's disappointment that justice would not be served yet again for the victim's family. He emphasized that the media should not focus on the prisoner, but on the devastation this has caused the victim's family.  He said the State would start the execution process over again for the Daniel family. When asked how this back-and-forth was affecting the prisoner's families, he avoided the question.

Despite the State's emphasis on bringing justice to the Daniel family, in an April 11 interview with the daughter of Jane Daniel, it was reported that even the victim's own daughter didn't want the death penalty.  When asked about how she'd feel if Don Davis was executed, Susan Khani said, "I'll be very sad. I know that because the day they found him guilty, I cried because this was senseless, you know, two deaths." The story reports that as a mother herself, Khani showed her son how his grandmother would have acted by modeling forgiveness.   "I forgave him immediately," Khani said. "Oh yeah. But it has nothing to do with him. I did this for my mom because she would never want us to be unhappy. She wants us to be happy and move on, to still laugh and love." Khani said she would have been satisfied with life without parole if that had been Davis's sentence.  (source: Arkansasmatters.com)

The State plans to move forward with the remaining 5 executions scheduled for April 20, 24 and 27.

Other images from around the prison that night: 

01 January 2017

Wedding Photos are Now on Facebook

I am moving away from using this blog site, so encourage you to check out my Facebook page for recent wedding work:

Thank you!