Arkansas Executions: Gruesome?

Red Folders - Arkansas Executions

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.

Red Folders - Arkansas ExecutionsEach 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.

Inside the vault in a courthouse complex.

Inside the vault in a courthouse complex.

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 …

Arkansas Executions

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.

Gruesome awaits.

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
29 Total

4 replies
  1. Radine Trees Nehring
    Radine Trees Nehring says:

    I certainly don’t discount the horror of what these men did. But as a human and a Christian, I can’t believe their barbarity justifies ours. In this case, two wrongs don’t make a right. I do believe in life in prison. In the case of one of the men just executed here in Arkansas, our newspaper said he had begun to counsel the other men on death row and was, himself, a changed person.

  2. Janis Patterson
    Janis Patterson says:

    To me this is a no-win situation. I am fortunate enough never to have had to watch an execution – I think it would be gruesome in the extreme, no matter the method. Deliberate death always is. But – I am in favor of execution for some crimes. When people are talking about how the poor prisoner suffers, I cannot think of his victims – both the ones who died and the loved ones they left behind. Some killers simply kill relatively quickly and cleanly, but that still leaves a grieving family behind, a family whose loved one was taken from them unfairly. Some killers take joy in killing – some repeatedly – in hideous and (yes) gruesome manners. Torture. Vicious captivity. Sadistic maltreatment. Other methods I don’t even want to think about. Victims that are usually innocent of anything but being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They leave behind families too, families that will always have to live with the knowledge that their loved one died in horror and pain and fear, their flesh burned and ripped and cut… That’s why while I admit that a legal execution is a horrible thing, when one happens I think about the victims and the families they leave behind and so I feel no sympathy for the killer. There are several quotes that fit here – an eye for an eye, those who live by the sword…, etc. It’s simple. If one does not want to be executed (gruesomely or not) one should not commit crimes. Justice is justice.

    And to move on, I want to thank you, Lee, for your thoughts and insights on the world of law enforcement. It is – thankfully – a world with which most of us have little personal contact. My brother was a peace officer for over 35 years, and sometimes reading your posts almost makes me think I’m listening to him. Thank you.

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Fred. Thanks so much for stopping by and for posting a comment. Very much appreciated.

    I would like to explain that, while not sympathizing with those who break the law, especially those who kill, I’m someone who’s actually witnessed an execution by electric chair. I’m not sure you can say the same. If so, then you’re a bit less caring than I. Believe me, I’m no bleeding heart when it comes to this stuff. As they say, been there, done that, and don’t look back.

    However, this execution was a gruesome sight to me and to others. And simply because the person was a criminal, a very nasty serial killer, didn’t make it any less ghastly. To watch a human body go through what this one did was nothing short of, well, gruesome. This stuff is not a video game.

    Again, if you have actual experience, then I apologize. I’m not speaking of military combat experience, though. Instead, I’m speaking of working as a police officer who is not involved in regularly engaging in gunfire with other humans. It’s not what cops do on a daily basis. In fact, it is outside the norm for a police officer to shoot another person. Cops think about it all the time – the “what-ifs,” but the situation is more of a rarity than the norm.

    I’m as tough as the next guy. Maybe tougher than some. I’ve been cut and stabbed a few times. Beaten, shot at, kicked, and spit on. And I’ve seen humans mangled beyond recognition. I’ve also shot and killed someone. The latter really took its toll on me.

    And, through all of that and lots more, I still can’t yawn, as you suggest, when a person or animal suffers. Even the robber I shot … my heart still hurts over that day. Did I do the right thing? Sure. Would I do it again, if necessary. Sure. Do these facts make me feel any better about having shot and killed someone? Not even close.

    And to be flippant about seeing someone die a horrible death, no matter who the person is, well, that’s just not me.

  4. Fred
    Fred says:

    Yawn. Maybe don’t be a criminal piece of trash and they might deserve some sympathy. Make it a weapons testing facility – anyone can come in, bring their own gun and ammo. Win-win.

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