Arkansas Death Penalty: Execution Day

    10:38 PM, Nov 3, 2011   |    comments
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    GRADY, AR (KTHV) -- It's your last day to live. You've known this day is coming for years, so it's no surprise and you've been able to mentally prepare to an extent. What are your thoughts? Do you want a last meal? A final conversation? It's an experience dozens of people have gone through here in Arkansas.

    Just over the railroad tracks, across from Varner Supermax Prison is a resting place for hundreds of Arkansans. It's a graveyard. Loved ones buried by family. But for others, they have no loved ones; at least no one who claimed their body.

    For example, Ronald Gene Simmons, a Vietnam vet who killed 14 family members in Pope County in 1987. He was executed by the state and buried by the state.

    But long before a burial, an execution day is set. Most often, there are years of mental preparation.

    Some are ready. Rickey Newman says, "I don't know why I haven't been put to death yet?"

    Others are far from ready. "Absolutely you are scared," explains Don Davis in 2007.

    It's November 2005, the last execution in Arkansas. It's the final month of 45-year-old Eric Nance's life. He was convicted of raping and murdering a Malvern teenager in 1993. Julie Heath's throat was slashed with a box cutter.

    Her cousin Johnnie Hood says, "Julie was just a beautiful girl that always smiled."

    These weeks, everything from when Nance wakes up, to who he calls, to what he eats is methodically planned by the Department of Correction. Counseling starts weeks in advance. The inmate is learns step by step what will happen on execution day.

    Spokesperson Dina Tyler says, "It's a busy time."

    And it's quite the opposite of an inmate's normal days in solitary confinement.

    She adds, "What is fixing to happen is obviously monumental." And they have to be prepared for it emotionally.

    Prior to the execution, the inmate is transferred from death row at Varner Supermax to a quiet cell immediately next to the execution chamber at nearby Cummins Unit.

    Then, the day comes.Family and friends are now restricted, only a lawyer and spiritual advisor can meet with Nance- in a special visitation room.

    Around 4 p.m. his final meal is served. He asks for wwo Bacon Cheeseburgers, french fries, two pints of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and two cokes.

    On execution day in 2005, Tyler told THV, "He has gotten calmer as it has gotten closer to the execution time. He has been in relatively good spirits considering the gravity of the situation."

    It's now 9:24, the white curtain opens and Nance is lying on a gurney
    A white sheet covers him from his neck to his feet. Thirty people are watching; members of the media, the victim's family, and prison officials. He's given the chance for any last words, but no answer.

    Three people can stop his death including the governor, Department of Correction Director, or a judge, but no call comes.

    The lethal injection process then starts, injecting a cocktail of drugs into Nance.
    Six Minutes later the coroner pronounces him dead.

    Hood says, "I guess it brings closure that he's gone. But, you know, we thought this would make things better as far as him being gone. That's good, but it will never bring back Julie."

    This schedule is pretty much the same for all inmates on execution day.

    Dina Tyler says it is a difficult time for the multiple agencies involved. As for a cost of executions, she says it's a question they get often.

    She adds, "We never knew where to draw the line. There was never a logical stopping point. Plus, we have been reluctant to figure an amount because how to you put a price on a life?"

    Back over the railroad tracks, the cemetery will not be getting an extra grave this day. Nance will be buried elsewhere. But as surely as Arkansas' death row continues, one day another will be added.

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