Capital punishment in Arkansas

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The Varner Unit, pictured here, houses the State of Arkansas death row for men

Capital punishment is legal in the U.S. state of Arkansas. Since 1820, a total of 504 individuals have been executed. According to the Arkansas Department of Correction, as of August 05, 2015, a total of 34 men were under a sentence of death in the state. On June 22, 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled the current execution law unconstitutional because it let the executive branch decide on some execution issues that the legislature should have.[1]


All but four executions carried out before 1913 were by hanging. Four guerillas were shot on 29 July 1864.

On 25 July 1902 seven men were hung, the most executions in one day in the state.

Almost all executions were for crimes that involved murder. A number of people were also executed for rape and there was one execution for espionage, 17-year-old alleged Confederate spy David O. Dodd, hanged by Union soldiers on 8 January 1864.

In 1913 the method used was changed to the electric chair. The electric chair was constructed from the wood that had previously made up the state gallows. This electric chair would be used for all electrocutions up until 1964. Four more people were hanged in the state — one in 1913, two in 1914 and one in 1930.

The last execution in the state before Furman v. Georgia[2] was that of Charles Fields on 24 January 1964 for rape. New capital punishment laws were passed in Arkansas and came into force on 23 March 1973. The first execution would not come until 18 June 1990 when John Swindler was electrocuted. His was the first and only execution so far on the new electric chair constructed by the state in the 1970s.

According to Michael L. Radelet of the University of Colorado there have been two instances of executions that did not go to plan in Arkansas since Furman. On 24 January 1992 the execution of Ricky Ray Rector was delayed by 50 minutes after the medical staff were unable to find a suitable vein in his arm. The curtain over the witness area was not drawn, and witnesses heard Rector moan loudly eight times. State officials attributed the difficulties to his size and use of antipsychotic medication. The execution of Christina Marie Riggs faced similar delays on May 2, 2000, when staff were unable to locate a vein in her elbow. They eventually found one in her wrist.

There have been at least three death penalty volunteers in Arkansas: Ronald Gene Simmons, Christina Marie Riggs and Clay King Smith.


For all people sentenced after 4 July 1983, the method used is the lethal injection. Under state law:

"The punishment of death is to be administered by a continuous intravenous injection of a lethal quantity of an ultra-short-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic agent…"

If the person was sentenced before that date, they have the choice of the electric chair or lethal injection. However, since no inmates are eligible for that method, the electric chair has all but been retired for use in volunteers to be used.

If lethal injection is ever ruled unconstitutional, the electric chair can be used for all death sentences.

Clemency rests with the governor of Arkansas, who receives a non-binding report from the Arkansas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Executions in Arkansas are currently performed at the Cummins Unit.

As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime [3] or intellectual disabled[4] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.

Death row[edit]

Cummins Unit houses the State of Arkansas execution chamber

Death row inmates are located at the Arkansas Department of Correction Varner Unit's Supermax, while the executions are performed at the Cummins Unit, adjacent to Varner.[5] The female death row is located at the McPherson Unit. In 1999 the female death row was newly inaugurated.[6]

In 1974 male death row inmates, previously at the Tucker Unit, were moved to the Cummins Unit.[7] In 1986 male death row inmates were moved to the Maximum Security Unit.[7] On Friday August 22, 2003, all 39 Arkansas death row inmates, all of them male, were moved to the Supermax at the Varner Unit.[8]

Capital offenses[edit]

List of individuals executed since Furman[edit]

All of the following individuals have been executed for murder since the Furman decision. All but John Swindler were executed by lethal injection. Swindler's execution was on the electric chair.

# Executed person Race Age Sex Date of
Victim(s) Under Governor
1 John Edward Swindler White 46 M 18-Jun-1990 Police officer Randy Basnett Bill Clinton
2 Ronald Gene Simmons White 49 M 25-Jun-1990 Rebecca Simmons, Gene Simmons, Barbara Simmons, Loretta Simmons, Eddy Simmons, Marianne Simmons, Becky Simmons, Renata Simmons, Billy Simmons, Trae Simmons, Sheila McNulty, Dennis McNulty, Michael McNulty, Sylvia Simmons, Kathy Kendrick, and James D. Chaffin.
3 Ricky Ray Rector Black 40 M 24-Jan-1992 Police officer Robert Martin
4 Steven Douglas Hill White 25 M 07-May-1992 Police officer Robert Klein
5 Edward Charles Pickens Black 39 M 11-May-1994 Wesley Noble Jim Guy Tucker
6 Jonas Hoten Whitmore White 50 M 11-May-1994 Essie Mae Black
7 Hoyt Franklin Clines White 37 M 03-Aug-1994 Don Lehman
8 Darryl V. Richley White 43 M 03-Aug-1994
9 James William Holmes White 37 M 03-Aug-1994
10 Richard Wayne Snell White 64 M 19-Apr-1995 William Stumpp
11 Barry Lee Fairchild Black 41 M 31-Aug-1995 Marjorie Mason
12 William Frank Parker White 41 M 08-Aug-1996 James Warren and Sandra Warren Mike Huckabee
13 Paul Ruiz Latino 49 M 08-Jan-1997 Marvin Richie and Opal James
14 Earl Van Denton White 47 M 08-Jan-1997
15 Kirt Douglas Wainwright Black 30 M 08-Jan-1997 Barbara Smith
16 Eugene Wallace Perry White 53 M 06-Aug-1997 Kenneth Staton and Suzanne Staton-Ware
17 Wilburn A. Henderson White 56 M 08-Jul-1998 Willa Dean O'Neal
18 Johnie Michael Cox White 42 M 16-Feb-1999 Marie Sullens, Margaret Brown, and Billy Brown
19 Marion Albert Pruett White 49 M 12-Apr-1999 Bobbie Jean Robertson
20 Mark Edward Gardner White 43 M 08-Sep-1999 Joe Joyce, Martha Joyce, and Sara McCurdy
21 Alan Willett White 52 M 08-Sep-1999 Eric Willett and Roger Willett
22 Christina Marie Riggs White 28 F 02-May-2000 Justin Riggs and Shelby Alexis Riggs
23 David Dewayne Johnson Black 37 M 19-Dec-2000 Leon Brown
24 Clay King Smith White 30 M 08-May-2001 Misty Erwin, Shelley Sorg, Sean Sorg, Taylor Sorg, and Samantha Rhodes
25 Riley Dobi Noel Black 31 M 09-Jul-2003 Marcell Young, Malak Hussian, and Mustafa Hussian
26 Charles Laverne Singleton Black 44 M 06-Jan-2004 Mary Lou York
27 Eric Randall Nance White 45 M 28-Nov-2005 Julie Heath

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nuss, Jeannie. "Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down execution law." Associated Press. June 22, 2012. Retrieved on March 24, 2013.
  2. ^ Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)
  3. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  4. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  5. ^ "State Capitol Week in Review." State of Arkansas. June 13, 2008. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Executions are carried out in the Cummins Unit, which is adjacent to Varner."
  6. ^ Haddigan, Michael. "They Kill Women, Don't They?" Arkansas Times. April 9, 1999. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  7. ^ a b "2006 Facts Brochure." Arkansas Department of Correction. July 1, 2005-June 30, 2006. 25 (25/38). Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  8. ^ "Death Row On The Move" (Archive). KAIT. August 26, 2003. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  • Arkansas Code § 5-10-101. Capital murder
  • Arkansas Code § 5-51-201. Treason


External links[edit]