Free James Weaver
The Arkansas Times cover story on June 18 regarding the plight of James Weaver, an inmate in the Tucker Maximum Security Correctional Facility who was sentenced in 1990 to life without parole, was timely and informative. Weaver was convicted for his forced participation in the disposal of a dead body. I will not attempt to retell the entire story in this letter since David Koon did a wonderful job writing about Weaver's situation, in which I became involved due to my position as one of seven commissioners on the Arkansas Parole Board this past year. I would encourage everyone to read Koon's article, as well as visiting the website freejamesweaver.com, and form your own opinion whether Weaver's 25 years of incarceration have been ample punishment. The website includes a four-page letter and links to all information given to the governor outlining many of the reasons why the parole board unanimously recommended that Weaver be granted clemency and released from prison.
James Weaver filed an application for clemency, which was received by Gov. Mike Beebe on Oct. 1, 2014. Gov. Asa Hutchinson inherited the file because there is generally an eight- to nine-month backlog of clemency and pardon requests that must be taken up by the governor. By statute, the governor had until July 5 to render his decision.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Hutchinson has issued his decision. He did not deny as was done previously by Govs. Mike Huckabee and Beebe, neither of whom had all of the information that was available to Hutchinson. A denial would have meant that Weaver could not reapply for another six years. Hutchinson took "no action" on Weaver's request, which means that Weaver can reapply for commutation immediately. Weaver is in the process of that already. There is some question as to how long this new process will take, but I am of the opinion that the governor could render a decision immediately once the new application is received and reviewed by his office. Others imply that the process could take over a year. Public opinion could help speed up the process, so I ask all of you to help free James Weaver.
There is no doubt in my mind that former Pulaski Circuit Judge John Langston was wrong in not allowing a continuance in Weaver's trial that would have enabled the actual killer, who was being evaluated at the State Hospital, to be available at that trial. And, how many of you have ever heard of a murder trial being held two-and-a-half months after a murder? That just doesn't happen ... but, it did! Again, read Koon's story as well as the information sent to the governor shown on the website. You will also be able to read about a case in which a much more involved accomplice to a murder received a 20-year term but was paroled after serving only 14 years.
Arkansas's criminal justice system needs a great amount of reform. Hutchinson has formed a task force to look into this burdensome and costly system. As of May 27, there were 18,839 imprisoned individuals compared to 17,864 on Dec. 16, 2014, in the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC). There are also approximately 54,000 individuals in Arkansas Community Correction (ACC). That number includes individuals on parole and probation, those in drug courts and boot camp, and approximately 2,000 incarcerated individuals. That is a total of almost 73,000 who are directly overseen by ADC and ACC. This does not count the unfortunately huge number of family members, including numerous children without a parent, who are indirectly affected and suffer immensely.
Our state cannot afford to continue "as is." So many of our prisoners, and those out on parole, are repeat offenders. The majority of those committed lesser crimes (drug offenses lead the list) than those who need to be kept in prison for worse crimes such as murder, sex crimes, assault and domestic violence. What can the state do to end this vicious cycle that sometimes affects three generations of a family? For starters, provide pre-K education to properly prepare all children in this state to earn a high school diploma or vocational education as well as a college diploma. Why do we wait until they reach prison to teach them these things? And then, Arkansas must attract good jobs that pay much more than minimum wage. We must spend our tax dollars more wisely on education and job creation, which will, in turn, lower our crime rate.
In closing, I would ask all Arkansans to help "free James Weaver." His bunk at Tucker Max should be occupied by someone who scares us.
Modern vs. historic
Little Rock's Historic District Commission is entertaining a proposal that would allow the construction of modern-looking structures in the MacArthur Park Historic District. In fact, it engaged a consultancy to consider how the standards associated with preserving the historic district might be changed to facilitate the construction of modern-looking structures. These would not be modern structures stylistically consistent with old-time structures, but simply modern structures. Modern structures that could be placed adjacent to, or surrounding, National Register properties. Modern structures that could comprise entire half-blocks of the district. Modern structures with no attempt at stylistic harmonization with historic structures.
What sense does this make? People who choose to live in an historic district do so because they enjoy the ambiance associated with such an experience. And people who visit an historic district expect to see something historic, not something modern.
Those interested in preserving the historic character of the MacArthur Park Historic District need to let the historic district commissioners know their feelings before the district is reduced to an architectural hodgepodge of historic buildings and modern suburbia.