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2017 Academic All Stars

2017 Academic All Stars

April 27, 2017

Vol 43 • No 34

Read the print version

Margarita Fest preview

The inaugural competition is May 4.

2017 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Finalists

2017 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Nominees

2017 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team

Meet the best and brightest high school students in the state.

Watching an execution

A reporter's account of witnessing the execution of Marcel Williams.

Alice Cooper at Robinson Center

Also, Poetry on Pinnacle, SeanFresh, Fantastic Cinema & Craft Beer Festival, Sinkane, Etsyfest, Alexi Kenney, Monster Truck Jam and more

Eye for an eye

How the death penalty should work: The prisoners always complain about the execution.

Cool blue

A Q&A with author Katie Kitamura.

Call to arms

Basketball season's behind us, spring football practice hasn't culminated yet, and baseball hasn't quite revved up to the ever-beguiling postseason, so Pearls this go-round is a bit of a hodgepodge.

At the roadblock

Dusk comes to the State Police roadblock on Arkansas Highway 388, about a half-mile from the Cummins Unit, where two men will be put to death tonight. A cool spring evening here, the broad acre of Delta dirt near the turnoff to the prison as manicured as a golf course, other than the occasional fire ant mound, which the reporters step around like landmines.

A shoot-'em-up

Ben Wheatley's 'Free Fire' is not much more.

Bryant High School students achieve finalist status in national art contest

Bryant High School is one of the top-50 finalists in the Vans Custom Culture art competition. In the next round of voting, a public vote will determine the top five schools.

Bumbling through lunch at Bucanas

Taqueria stumbles out of the gate.

Workers stiffed

How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?

Intracity tourism

The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."

Forget the hairdo

As the 2018 races begin to heat up, we see more and more women running for office. And as more women run, we will see more of the seemingly endless critiques of their appearances.

Travs take on Springfield Cardinals

Also, 607 comes to Vino's.

O'Reilly's fall

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Cotton on Trump's first 100 days

Also, death penalty reactions and more.

Inconsequential News Quiz: 'I Got 177 Million Reasons' Edition

Play at home, while sitting on your stolen moisture gauge!

Arkansas LOVES executions

Arkansas Medicaid 'savings' will produce some losers

The state offers an optimistic outlook on Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plans to reduce the number covered by the state's expanded Medicaid health coverage. There's reason for questions.

Can the Marijuana Commission receive paid travel?

An official opinion from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge touches lightly on the many ways in which the medical marijuana amendment creates new legal concerns.

Listen to the authors: A preview of Arkansas Literary Festival speakers

The Arkansas Literary Festival is coming up this weekend and you can get a taste of author talks to come by listening to a couple of podcasts with interviews with the writers.

Death watch includes a family reunion, arranged by a victim's family

The execution of Kenneth Williams for his 1999 slaying of Cecil Boren during a prison escape remains scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight, though actions in state and federal courts are anticipated in the final hours.

Jonathan Demme's Arkansas connection

With news of Jonathan Demme's passing, Arkansas Times movie reviewer Guy Lancaster noted the acclaimed director's work on a film called "Fighting Mad," which was filmed in parts of rural Washington County, with scenes shot in Fort Smith, Clarksville and Fayetteville.

New complaint filed in Kenneth Williams case

Lawyers for Kenneth Williams filed a new lawsuit this morning in Pulaski Circuit Court claiming that his execution tonight would cause unconstitutional cruel or unusual punishment.

One killed, another wounded in alleged robbery attempt

Little Rock police say one 17-year-old was killed and another wounded by a man who said they attempted to rob him in apartments at 6115 W. Markham Street.

ASU names chancellor finalists

Arkansas State University has announced three people to be interviewed for the position of chancellor of the system's main campus in Jonesboro.

An early open line

An early open line and news and comment at midday as we take a break for happier duty — the Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team.

UPDATE: Williams and a victim's family seek execution reprieve from Gov. Hutchinson. He declines.

Kenneth Williams' attorneys and family of one of his victims have written Gov. Asa Hutchinson in behalf of a reprieve in the execution scheduled for 7 p.m. today.

Commission to hear about plans for Ten Commandments monument

The state will move one step closer to a lawsuit on May 11, when the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission will hear the American History and Heritage Foundation's plans for a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state Capitol.

Review: Boston at Verizon Arena

As it was, nobody left the arena and into a suddenly chilly April night saying, “I wished they’d played [song name].” Boston played it all, whether you wanted it or not.

Among the last words from Kenneth Williams: 'Finger Lickin' Good Fried Chicken'

What's purported to be a final-words essay from condemned prisoner Kenneth Williams was distributed today by Deborah Robinson, a freelance journalist in Arkansas.  He reflects on his execution, his victims, reactions of inmates and big servings of fried chicken, which he says are given to all inmates on execution days.

The Kenneth Williams' execution thread

Kenneth Williams, 38, is scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. tonight at the Cummins Unit near Grady. If a court does not stop the execution, he will be the fourth death row prisoner to die over the last eight days in Arkansas.

Little Rock: The gun violence continues — one dead, two wounded

LRPD reports two shootings this afternoon, at 1803 Park Lane, where one person has died, and another at 24th and Marshall. Two other people were wounded.

Deadly night in Pine Bluff: Two fatally shot

KATV reports that two people were killed in Pine Bluff shortly before midnight Thursday, the same hour the state was killing murderer Kenneth Williams in a prison about 29 miles down the highway.

Charter school failure in New Orleans; a lesson for Little Rock UPDATE

Important reading today on the myth of the New Orleans charter school 'miracle.' Could such a miracle be in the offing for Little Rock?

Report: Payday lender closes shop in North Little Rock UPDATE

Hank Klein, the retired credit union president who's devoted considerable zeal to stamping out payday lenders and their exorbitant interest rates in Arkansas, reports that a payday lending operation in North Little Rock has closed its doors.

Calls for investigation follow execution of Kenneth Williams, observed 'lurching' and moaning during lethal injections

Calls for an investigation followed the execution of Kenneth Williams in Arkansas Thursday night. Body movement, sounds, labored breathing and a moan indicated something was amiss to several witnesses, though supporters of the death penalty called the movements "involuntary" and termed the killing "flawless."

Kenneth D. Williams: Dead, but his words live

Kenneth Williams is dead, executed for his murder of Cecil Boren, but his words live on in a Facebook page with his prolific Death Row writing.

Political speculation: A Democrat to run for 2nd District Congress

Hot off the political rumor mill: Win Thompson, 71, former president of the University of Central Arkansas, is giving some thought to a run for  Congress from the Second District, as a Democrat.

Three in family dead, child missing in Polk County

A child is missing and his mother, sister and a relative have been found dead this week in Polk County, local authorities say.

UPDATE: Governor announces $70 million budget cut to meet tax revenue shortfall

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said this morning that the state budget for the fiscal year, which ends June 30, will be cut $70 million because of a shortfall in revenue this year.

Lt. Gov. Griffin adds Koch group operative to staff

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin announced today that he'd hired David Ray, who'd been the director of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity's affiliate in Arkansas, as his deputy chief of staff and communications director.

Gov. Hutchinson on last night's execution: went according to protocol, no need for an independent investigation

At a press conference this morning at the State Capitol, Governor Asa Hutchinson said that there would be no need for an independent review of last night's execution of death row inmate Kenneth Williams or even a written report, calling such an investigation "totally unjustified" even though witnesses said that as the deadly drugs were administered, Williams convulsed for ten seconds and coughed and made other noises loud enough to be heard through the plate glass separating the execution chamber and the witness room.

Pianos pop up in Little Rock

The city of Little Rock and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership rolled out the pianos today at Capitol and Main.

Finally. Friday.

TGIF open line and news roundup.

UPDATE: Inmates' attorneys ask federal court for investigation of Arkansas executions. Judge OKs gathering of evidence.

UPDATED: A federal judge has ordered an autopsy and preservation of tissue and blood samples in response to a motion from attorneys for Kenneth Williams, who want to determine if he suffered during his execution Thursday night.

How low can they go? An insulting flyer for Little Rock school tax

The group pushing a huge addition to personal property tax payments in the Little Rock School District have hit a new low with their latest pro-tax flyer. A vote against it means you hate kids.

LR City Board to meet Sunday on crime; public comments not allowed

The Little Rock City Board will have a special called meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday to discuss the recent increase in violent crime episodes.

The Aftermath of the March to Death Edition

The executions of four men in eight days and related matters, the state’s plans to deal with a shortfall in revenue and more — covered on this week's podcast.

Before the flood

Twitter is flooded with predictions of sandbag-requiring flash flooding and torrential rains today, particularly in Northwest Arkansas. Keep us posted.

The death penalty fight goes on

The organized group working against the death penalty in Arkansas and elsewhere continues its campaign today with more statements from a public relations effort that has been busy since the beginning of Arkansas's planned burst of state killings.

Baker Kurrus: Opposes Little Rock School District tax

Baker Kurrus has written a monumental essay explaining why he opposes the proposal in the May 9 special , the Little Rock lawyer and businessman who long served on the Little Rock School Board and spent a year as its superintendent after the state takeover before being fired by Education Commissioner

The Saturday open line

An open line for a Saturday not yet as rainy as predicted, at least everywhere.

UPDATE: Fourth death confirmed in Polk County; suspect identified

UPDATE: The body of Reilly Scarborough has been found, bringing to four the number of family homicides in Polk County. The nine-year-old was found in woods west of Hatfield. A suspect is in custody.

Little Rock City Board crime show today gets low rating

The Little Rock City Board has scheduled a special Sunday TV show to posture about violence. A grassroots anti-crime group complains that the city board had ignored its calls for action until an episode of violence in a white neighborhood.

Opponents of Little Rock school tax say construction possible without new taxes

Opponents of an extension of 12.4 millions in Little Rock School District property taxes at a cost of $600 million or more say critical construction needs in the district can be made without a bond issue that lines the pockets of bond firms and lawyers.

LR City Board talks about crime and gang violence

Police Chief Kenton Buckner talked to the Little Rock City Board this afternoon at a special meeting about violent crime and the role being played by gang activities. The police can do more — and will, he said. But police alone are not the solution for problems besetting the most crime-prone neighborhoods.

After the storm open line

Flooding remains after a deadly storm that left damage over much of Arkansas. An open line for Sunday evening.

'The Banal Horror of Arkansas's Executions'

An essay in The New Yorker casts Arkansas in an ill light for Gov. Asa Hutchinson's effort to kill eight men between April 17-27, ultimately dispatching four of them.

Today in Trump

Today in Donald Trump — health care, border wall, thuggish visitor, propaganda.

Legislature quits, starts over

The regular session of the 2017 Arkansas legislature will adjourn at 1 p.m. today and then reconvene at 2 p.m. for a special session to consider several proposals from the governor — chiefly to change the Medicaid expansion to force 60,000 off the state-subsidized program and also to tap tobacco settlement money, traditionally dedicated to health uses, to put in a reserve fund to help the state's bond rating.

UT-Fayetteville? Woo.

A bit of pointed satire has begun circulating in Fayetteville built on the high enrollment of Texans at the University of Arkansas. Hook 'em!

More newspaper closures in Central Arkansas

Gatehouse Media has announced the effective end of five newspapers in Central Arkansas.

School tax opponents demonstrate at district offices

Opponents of the extension of 12.4 mills in Little Rock School District property taxes demonstrated outside school offices today.

Trent Garner tries to stir impeachment movement against Wendell Griffen

Sen. Trent Garner has used the Senate information office to distribute a statement in which he calls on the state House to issue articles of impeachment of Judge Wendell Griffen for his trial by the Senate.

Monday's open line

Here's today's open line and video roundup.

8th Circuit orders more hearings on filing deadline for independent candidates

The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals last week reversed a lower court and directed more testimony in a case by Mark Moore and others challenging the deadlines for independent candidates to file for election in Arkansas.

Tobacco money transfer fails on initial vote; it deserves a closer look UPDATE

An obstacle arose to the governor's little-noticed raid on tobacco settlement money to convert it from support of health programs to subsidies for private corporations.

Janet Jackson coming to Verizon Arena in September

Following the delay of her "Unbreakable" tour last year to focus on the arrival of her baby boy, Ms. Jackson is headed out on tour again, an announcement preceded by a mysterious countdown clock on the icon's website.

Democrats fault Hutchinson's Medicaid moves

The Arkansas Democratic Party, a tiny minority in the legislature these days, issued a statement yesterday critical of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposed changes in the Medicaid expansion financed by Obamacare.

Change coming on tobacco money transfer

An amendment is planned before another try at legislative committee approval of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan to move $100 million in cigarette lawsuit money — currently allowed to be spent only on health programs — to a general state reserve fund.

New Orleans monument removal draws Dixie defenders from Arkansas

Confederate irregulars from Arkansas have joined the protest against New Orleans' planned removal of monuments to heroes of the Confederacy.

Colbert on Trump

Colbert on Donald Trumps's trashing of a CBS correspondent.

Medical Board probes source of execution drugs

Here's anAP  account of news in the Democrat-Gazette this morning that the state Medical Board is investigating how the Correction Department came to obtain drugs used in recent executions.

The Medicaid charade explained

These are perilous times for the working poor and others who now enjoy health care coverage thanks to Obamacare. At the state and federal level, decisions of consequence are being made. Ernest Dumas explains how harm is likely, accompanied by blame-shifting by those in power to the unworthy layabouts:

U.S. Supreme Court orders review of Alabama death penalty case

In a ruling with potential application in Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a further review of an Alabama death penalty case in light of rulings that prevent execution of the intellectually disabled.

Special session hits delay on money transfer UPDATE

The House is in recess because of some delays in the Senate and lack of action yet by Joint Budget Committee on the governor's proposal to transfer $105 million in cigarette lawsuit money into a state reserve fund to improve the state's bond rating. The law change would end the current exclusive call for that money for health programs.

School tax voting underway

Early voting has begun for the special election Tuesday to extend 12.4 mills in Little Rock School District property taxes for 14 years to float a bond issue for construction.

Taco Tuesday at Tacos 4 Life

Tacos 4 Life worthy of its name.

$10,000 awarded to Little Rock native's Barbershop Books program

The National Book Foundation announced Barbershop Books as the winner of its Innovations in Reading Prize, to be accompanied by a $10,000 award, which founder and Little Rock native Alvin Irby plans to fund reading spaces in Little Rock barbershops.

Your midday open line

The customary early Tuesday open line with video roundup.

Governor's proposed cuts to Medicaid eligibility will increase costs for working poor; likely to increase uninsured rate

Speaking before a joint session of the legislature, which is reconvening this week for a special session, Hutchinson argued that these 60,000 Arkansans "will not lose access to coverage" and would get "the same level of financial support that they have now." The truth is a little more complicated.

House moves to set stage for impeachment of Judge Wendell Griffen over death penalty protest

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam is clearly running for higher office. He has slipped a resolution onto the agenda of the House Rules Committee he controls to clear the way for impeachment proceedings against

Hillary talks about defeat: Russian hackers, Comey and media high on list of factors

Hillary Clinton talked today about her election defeat, taking personal responsibility for the loss, but blaming Russian hackers, FBI director James Comey and misogyny as contributing factors.

State revenue picture gloomy, as predicted

The monthly state revenue report was as uninspiring as Gov. Asa Hutchinson had predicted. Amazon or no Amazon.

City Board hearing about crime in Little Rock; suggestions of racially motivated interest

The public comment period is underway at the Little Rock CityBoard between 5 and 6 p.m. and it's available at or Comcast Channel 11. Several speakers said the city board seemed concerned now only because white neighborhoods seemed threatened.

Governor calls for another budget cut for next year

The governor is already cutting the budget for the next fiscal year on account of continued predictions of sluggish growth.

Arkadelphia to host Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships

Mountain bikers from across the nation will be heading to Arkansas for the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships May 7 in Arkadelphia. The event will be held at the Iron Mountain Trail System, which is located in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains and on the south shore of DeGray Lake.

'Vouchers Found to Lower Test Scores in Washington Schools'

Another study shows school "choice" — private school vouchers in Washington, D.C. — didn't help the disadvantaged students it was supposed to help. In fact, it made things worse.

Caught: Fake recycling in Fort Smith

Sure enough. In one city, Fort Smith, supposed recycled materials have been going straight to the dump for months.

House approves taking tobacco lawsuit money for state reserve fund

The House gave approval to taking $105 million previously dedicated to health needs from the tobacco lawsuit and putting it in a state reserve fund.

Friday in Hot Springs: 'Place Holders' at Justus

Hot Springs' monthly Gallery Walk on Friday, May 5, should lead you to Justus Fine Art Gallery, 827 A Central Ave.,  where work by a number of Arkansas artists will be featured in a show called "Place Holders."

House adopts impeachment rule; Walker already talking lawsuit

The House had some heated debate today but adopted over Democratic objections House Speaker Jeremy Gillam's proposal to put a formal procedure in House rules for impeachment. It's a response to anger over Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen but no immediate action against Griffen is contemplated.

Wendell Griffen to legislature: Constitution protects speech and freedom. Do you?

Do legislators really believe in freedom? By threatening to impeach him, Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen suggests they don't.

Check out the new !!! (Chk Chk Chk) video

A new video from dance disciples !!!, pioneered in part by Little Rock native John Pugh.

Cindy Gillespie: Going for Olympic gold in LA

Department of Human Services Cindy Gillespie is dipping a toe back into U.S. participation in the Olympics.

Report: Greater media access needed for Arkansas executions

Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog, has posted a report on recent executions in Arkansas and other states that it says illustrate a need for greater media access.

Legislature goes, rain stays. Your open line

Midweek. That's something. An open line and the daily video.

Monticello man gets 57 months for stealing from disabled relative

The U.S. attorney's office said Thomas Dale Sass, 50, of Monticello had been sentenced to 57 months for stealing disability benefits from his former sister-in-law. He was ordered to make restitutions of $297,516.

Tony Alamo dies in federal prison

Tony Alamo, the former evangelist serving a federal prison sentence for sexual abusing girls, has died at 82.

Rogers' Lucy's Diner a gem

Lucy's Diner is stellar.

Arkansas to celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week May 7-13

By proclamation of Governor Asa Hutchinson, and in recognition of the positive economic, social, and cultural impact of the travel and tourism industry, Arkansas will celebrate May 7-13 as Tourism Week. In 2016, visitors who traveled in Arkansas spent an estimated $7.7 billion, which generated $538 million in state and local taxes, and supported more than 100,000 jobs.