When someone commits a crime and is subsequently arrested for the offense, they instantly become a part of the “system.” They’re reduced to a case number and a few papers inside a file folder, like those seen above and below.
Each of the red folders contains the file of a criminal case. They’re brief excerpts of a person’s life. A point in time when they decided to break the law. Sometimes, the things these people did are the same as things everyday people have done but were not caught (possession of small amounts of marijuana, for example).
Many of these “red folder people” are currently sitting in jail waiting for their day in court. Perhaps they’re locked inside a cell because they couldn’t raise the cash needed to meet bond requirements. Or, perhaps a judge felt they were a flight risk so she ordered them held under no bond status until trial.
Others, though, are out and about, working, playing, and tending to everyday wants and needs while the wheels of justice churn slowly toward their trial dates. Soon they’ll know their fates. Some will receive probation. Some will have charges dropped in exchange for performing community serve, and some will be sentenced to serve time in prison or a county jail. Others will simply go free with either time served or by having been found innocent of all charges.
One thing will remain a constant during the process, and beyond, and that’s the case number assigned to the red folder. It will remain attached to the offender’s case from day one until the record ceases to exist, if that point in time ever arrives.
Meanwhile, there’s this …
A short walk down red-folder-row in this particular courthouse records complex took me to a large walk-in safe/vault, much like what you’d expect to see inside a bank. This vault, however, contained something quite different than bundles of currency and sacks of gold coins.
Instead of mounds of cash, this steel- and concrete-clad room held a meager collection of office supplies and five neatly stacked columns of bankers boxes.
What, you might ask, is so important about twenty-eight bankers boxes that they’re all lined up like a row of soldiers standing at attention inside a locked bank-type vault? Well …
Those twenty-boxes contain the files of active death penalty or potential death penalty cases.
Yes, those cardboard boxes you see pictured are all that’s standing between life and death for several men and women. They contain the details of each case—the words and evidence that could convict, or on appeal, change the outcome from death to life in prison.
Some whose case notes are stored inside the boxes would go on to accept plea deals to spare them from an appointment with “the needle.” Others are no longer in the system. Their day has come and gone. A few still await “the end.”
I can’t begin to describe the feeling I experienced the moment I crossed the threshold of the vault. Eerie to say the least, and I suppose it was so because I’d personally witnessed the execution of a prisoner back in the 1980s.
Executions are Gruesome
To this day, I still picture images of serial killer Timothy Spencer sitting in the electric chair at Greenville Correctional Center, the facility that houses Virginia’s execution chamber.
That night, mere moments after Spencer’s gaze met mine, executioner Jerry Givens flipped the switch and the odor of burning hair and flesh filled the execution chamber. Spencer’s body surged and swelled and pushed against the restraints that bound him tightly to “Old Sparky.” Fluids spewed from behind the leather mask covering his face. His joints were frozen in place by the intense heat and burning. Sandbags were used to help straighten those joints once the body was cool enough to touch.
The prison doctor had to wait several minutes to allow Spencer’s body to cool enough to allow the use of a stethoscope to check for signs of life. That’s right. Too hot to touch without burning the doctor’s hands.
Me? I didn’t need a medical device to tell me the man was dead. What I’d seen, heard, and smelled was all the proof I needed. It was indeed a gruesome way to die. Gruesome. Gruesome. Gruesome.
Last week, Arkansas executed four prisoners. Witnesses said about three minutes into the process the condemned man jerked and coughed for about twenty seconds. Some described the execution as gruesome and called for an investigation.
Spencer, like the men executed in Arkansas, is dead. His demise was what I, someone who’s seen more than his fair share of death, would describe as gruesome. I said it above and again here. Gruesome. Can’t stress the point enough.
Twenty seconds of movement and moaning … well, I suppose it’s all relative.
So choose your own synonym. They all describe what I saw—grim, ghastly, frightful, horrid, horrifying, grisly, dire, awful, shocking, appalling, repulsive, repugnant, revolting, and/or sickening. Your pick. They all fit.
The following is list of the inmates currently on death row in Arkansas.
May God have mercy on their souls.
No. Name Date of Birth Race/Sex Date of Sentence County
SK911 Coulter, Roger 12/01/1959 W/M 10/27/1989 Ashley
SK915 Ward, Bruce Earl 12/24/1956 W/M 10/18/1990 Pulaski
SK920 Davis, Don W. 11/23/1962 W/M 03/06/1992 Benton
SK922 Greene,Jack G 03/13/1955 W/M 10/15/1992 Johnson
SK925 Dansby, Ray 03/03/1960 B/M 06/11/1993 Union
SK926 Nooner, Terrick T. 03/17/1971 B/M 09/28/1993 Pulaski
SK927 Reams, Kenneth 12/21/1974 B/M 12/16/1993 Jefferson
SK929 Sasser, Andrew 10/21/1964 B/M 03/03/1994 Miller
SK933 Johnson, Stacey E. 11/26/1969 B/M 09/23/1994 Sevier
SK934 Kemp, Timothy W. 08/04/1960 W/M 12/02/1994 Pulaski
SK939 Rankin, Roderick L. 11/18/1975 B/M 02/13/1996 Jefferson
SK941 Jackson, Alvin 06/30/1970 B/M 06/20/1996 Jefferson
SK946 McGehee, Jason F. 07/04/1976 W/M 01/08/1998 Boone
SK956 Roberts, Karl D. 03/06/1968 W/M 05/24/2000 Polk
SK960 Isom, Kenneth 06/03/1967 B/M 03/28/2001 Drew
SK961 Anderson, Justin 03/21/1981 B/M 01/31/2002 Lafayette
SK964 Thessing, Billy 09/11/1968 W/M 09/10/2004 Pulaski
SK965 Thomas, Mickey D. 09/25/1974 B/M 09/28/2005 Pike
SK966 Springs, Thomas 06/25/1962 B/M 11/24/2005 Sebastian
SK968 Sales, Derek 01/08/1961 B/M 05/17/2007 Ashley
SK971 Decay, Gregory 07/11/1985 B/M 04/24/2008 Washington
SK972 Marcyniuk, Zachariah 05/21/1979 W/M 12/12/2008 Washington
SK973 Lacy, Brandon E. 01/01/1979 W/M 05/13/2009 Benton
SK976 Lard, Jerry D. 03/13/1974 W/M 07/28/2012 Greene
SK977 Holland, Robert 11/28/1968 W/M 10/04/1991 Union
SK979 Johnson, Latavious 10/31/1981 B/M 11/04/2014 Lee
SK980 Gay, Randy W. 09/01/1958 W/M 03/19/2015 Garland
SK981 Holly, Zachary D. 10/08/1984 W/M 05/27/2015 Benton
SK982 Torres, Mauricio A. 12/24/1969 H/M 11/15/2016 Benton
14 White Males
14 Black Males
1 Hispanic Male