LITTLE ROCK — Family members of the victims of two Arkansas inmates scheduled to be executed next month made emotional pleas Friday to the state Parole Board not to recommend clemency for the victims’ convicted killers.
In back-to-back victim-input hearings at its headquarters in downtown Little Rock, the board heard from the families of Debra Reese of Jacksonville and Carol Jean Heath of De Queen.
Ledelle Lee, 51, has been sentenced to die for Reese’s 1993 slaying, and Stacey Eugene Johnson, 47, has been sentenced to die for Heath’s slaying, also in 1993.
Lee, Johnson and six other condemned inmates are scheduled to be executed over an unprecedented 10-day span in April as Arkansas rushes to carry out executions before its supply of an execution drug expires at the end of next month. Lee and Johnson are both set to be put to death April 20 and are the first of the group to have their clemency requests considered by the board.
Reese’s father and son both wept as they addressed the board Friday.
“Ledelle Lee has shown no remorse over the years, and he would be a danger to the rest of the prisoners. He will never change,” said Stephen Williams, Reese’s father.
Reese’s son, Joseph Lucky, told the board, “My mother was everything to me. When she was ripped from my life it started a spiral that I almost didn’t recover from. My family has lived in the shadow of this event our entire lives. I’m asking you and begging you to please let us have some closure.”
Lee was convicted of beating Reese to death with a tire iron in her home. DNA evidence has linked him to several other attacks on women.
Melissa Cassady, Heath’s sister, told the board, “It’s been 24 years almost, and that’s a long time. (Johnson) has shown no remorse for his actions on that night.”
Cassady said Heath was her only sibling and that living without her has been “hell.”
“I just want closure and I want this done,” she said.
Jonathan Erickson, Heath’s son, said he believes Johnson’s punishment is overdue.
“I don’t understand why this needs to take so long,” he said.
Ashley Heath, Carol Heath’s daughter, told the board in 2015 she had forgiven Johnson and asked that his sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole. She did not appear at Friday’s hearing, but in a letter she told the board she would leave the decision up to it and the governor.
Johnson was convicted of beating, strangling and cutting the throat of Heath in her home while her young children were at home.
Earlier Friday, the board held hearings at the state Department of Correction’s Varner Unit near Grady to hear from the inmates seeking clemency.
Lee, who did not attend his hearing but was represented by attorney Lee Short, claims he is innocent and that he repeatedly has been assigned attorneys who had conflicts or were inadequate.
Johnson, who did attend his hearing, also claims he is innocent. He maintains that several errors occurred at his trial, including testimony given by an incompetent witness for the state and the exclusion of evidence that pointed to another possible suspect.
The board is expected to make non-binding recommendations to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday. Additional hearings are planned Monday and Friday of next week in the cases of three other condemned inmates.