August 25, 2017 / 8:37 PM / 2 years ago

Arkansas governor to spare inmate previously set to die in April

(Reuters) - Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson declared on Friday that he intended to grant clemency to a death row inmate who was among four of eight prisoners in the state whose scheduled April executions were halted by court orders.

The clemency order would convert the death sentence of Jason McGehee, 41, to life without the possibility of parole, the governor said in a statement.

“In making this decision, I considered many factors, including the entire trial transcript, meetings with members of the victim’s family and the recommendation of the Parole Board,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson noted that neither of McGehee’s two co-defendants in the 1996 beating death of John Melbourne Jr. were sentenced to death, which he said also influenced his decision, and which the state’s Parole Board cited in its clemency recommendation about three weeks before McGehee was set to die on April 27.

Under the state’s procedure, Hutchinson’s announcement triggers a 30-day comment period after which he will sign a proclamation making the clemency official, spokesman J.R. Davis said. McGehee would be the first death row inmate to receive clemency from Hutchinson, who held office since 2015, he added.

At the same time, Hutchinson scheduled a Nov. 9 execution date for another death row inmate, Jack Gordon Greene, who was convicted of a 1991 murder.

In a move that “deeply troubled” the United Nations human rights office, Hutchinson had scheduled an unprecedented eight executions - two per day on four separate days - over a 10-day period in April. But the state put only four inmates to death after courts blocked the other four executions.

Hutchinson said at the time that the expedited schedule was needed because a difficult-to-obtain drug in the state’s lethal injection mix would expire at the end of the month.

McGehee’s execution was blocked by U.S. District Judge J.P. Marshall on April 6, which the state did not appeal.

Hutchinson noted that the presiding judge at McGehee’s trial also recommended clemency over the objections of the county prosecutor and sheriff.

McGehee’s attorney, federal public defender John Williams, hailed the clemency decision, saying “Jason’s case offers a prime example of why clemency is a necessary part of capital sentencing.”

Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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