Executive clemency hearings began on Friday in advance of Arkansas’s upcoming execution dates for eight inmates on death row.
This morning, the Arkansas Parole Board heard from Stacey Johnson and an attorney for Ledell Lee, both of whom are scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 20. (Lee chose not to address the board himself.) The hearings took place at Varner Unit.
Both Johnson and Lee were sentenced to die in 1993 for capital murder. Johnson was convicted by a Sevier County jury for the rape and murder of Carol Heath, whose daughter — 6 years old at the time — was a witness to the crime. Lee was convicted in Pulaski County for the murder of Debra Reese, a resident of Jacksonville. Prosecutors say he was also responsible for a string of violent rapes and an additional murder in the same Jacksonville neighborhood.
Both men maintain they are innocent. “I’m about to lose my life for a crime I didn’t commit,” Johnson told the board. He also implied he was the victim of a conspiracy involving a corrupt criminal justice system and law enforcement. “A whole lot of people want to silence me,” he said.
The parole board will likely make its recommendations to Governor Hutchinson in the next few days.
In the afternoon, the parole board held additional hearings at its offices in Little Rock, where family members of the murder victims urged the panel to deny the clemency requests. Among them was Jonathan Erickson, the son of Carol Heath, who was 2 years old at the time of her murder. “I don’t understand why this needs to take so long,” he said, adding later, “it always seems to come back to this room,” meaning before the parole board.
In contrast to her brother, Ashley Heath, the daughter of Carol Heath, had previously asked for clemency for Johnson, saying she simply wanted the process to be over after more than two decades of appeals. In a statement today, however, Ashley Heath said she was neither asking for Johnson to die nor asking for his life to be spared. She would leave the decision in the hands of the parole board and the governor, she said.