The Arkansas Parole Board has recommended mercy for one of eight inmates the state is rushing to execute in a 10-day period so it can use hard-to-get lethal injection drugs before they expire.
But the 6-1 recommendation is not binding, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson has not said whether he plans to grant clemency to Jason McGehee, 40, who is on death row for the 1996 torture slaying of a teenager.
"He has learned his lesson, and he still has value that can be given to others if his life is spared," former Corrections Department Director Ray Hobbs told the parole board last week, according to Arkansas Online.
McGehee's lawyer portrayed him as a changed man who got a harsher sentence than two co-defendants.
"Mr. McGehee was only twenty years old at the time of his offense, and his near-perfect record in prison has impressed many people," the attorney, John Williams, said in a statement.
But at last week's hearing, the father of McGehee's victim — who was beaten to death and strangled for telling police about a theft — asked the board to reject clemency.
"John didn't have this," Johnny Melbourne Sr. said of his 15-year-old son and namesake. "Even though he was begging for his life and was hurting. He didn't have this and he begged for his life too. He didn't have y'all."
The Parole Board has already turned down clemency requests from four of the men scheduled to die between April 17 and 27, and it will hold a hearing for another on Friday.
Arkansas hasn't put a prisoner to death since 2005 and has struggled, like many states, to obtain the necessary deadly chemicals because manufacturers have refused to sell them to prisons for the purpose of killing people.
The new and unprecedented execution schedule — using a sedative that has been involved in several other executions that did not go as planned — has sparked criticism from death penalty opponents who say it sets the stage for error. Prison officials even had trouble finding the needed six civilian witnesses for each execution, and tried recruiting from the Rotary Club.
Arkansas officials contend they had no choice: the governor set the execution dates as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to the state's protocol, and the prison's supply of midazolam expires at the end of April.
A series of legal challenges are still pending in federal and state courts — and prisoners can always file last-minute appeals — so it's not clear that the state will be able to execute all of the inmates on the timetable it wants.