The Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is demonstrating at the Capitol today against the scheduled state killing of seven men beginning Monday.
The crowd at the demonstration included former death row inmate Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three and actor Johnny Depp.
We'll have more to report later. But KTHV notes on Twitter that a counter-protesttor emerged. He took the Capitol steps to urge execution. "They really need to go through pain," he said. "Look what they did." Police officers escorted him away.
During brief remarks at the demonstration, Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Catholic diocese noted that today's event is being held on Good Friday. Taylor said that those who called for Jesus's death were good people, convinced Christ had broken the law against blasphemy. He said that Roman governor Pontius Pilate knew the charge was untrue, but "was afraid of the political and social fallout" of pardoning Jesus. He said that the people of Arkansas are no different that the crowds that called for the death of Jesus, because the state calls for the death of criminals. He said of the condemned men that God does not give up on us as human beings, and we shouldn't give up on anyone else.
Later, Echols spoke. He said he still has nightmares and dreams in which he is still imprisoned on death row, a place he called hell on earth. He said he didn't want to come back to Arkansas, but knew that he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't try to come back and do something to help bring attention to the executions.
Echols said that the men who are to be executed this month aren't "just people I saw on the news." Some, he said, were men he lived with for 18 years. He had seen those men at their best and worst, Echols said, and said that some of them showed him more kindness and generosity than he was ever shown by officials with the Arkansas Department of Correction. During his time on death row, he said, they would would have murdered him without a second thought to further their political careers. Echols said that some of the men to be executed are insane, or mentally impaired to the point they don't know where they are. Others have been the victims of sexual assault since they were young children.
"The state wants you to praise them for executing someone with an I.Q. of 60," Echols said.
Echols said the state and pro-death penalty politicians may "win this battle" and carry out the seven executions. But, he said, "you can turn this victory into ashes in their mouths... the next election, turn them out." If those who are elected continue the death penalty, Echols said, turn them out too. Do that, Echols said, and history will show the people of Arkansas didn't "bow down and lick the boots of those in authority."