Ann Kenda

Reporter

Ann Kenda joined Arkansas Public Media in January 2017 from Sudbury, Massachusetts.  She is a graduate of Syracuse University and previously worked in public radio, commercial radio and newspaper in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  She focuses on health, justice, education and energy as part of the Arkansas Public Media team.  Her stories can be found on the airwaves, ArkansasPublicMedia.org and social media.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

When the winds are just right on an October afternoon, clouds of smoke can be seen from the rural highways of Mississippi County. 

Once in a while, an out-of-state motorist calls 911 to report a fire, but most people who live and work in the county are familiar with the phenomenon.  It’s agricultural burning, a widely used but controversial practice that allows the farmers to clear their fields quickly after a harvest and get ready for the next season.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Grass Roots Farmers' Cooperative in Clinton consider so-called locavores and farm-to-table chefs who want assurance their meat is raised organically their target demographic, and they're turning to the emerging information system blockchain technology for its ease and thoroughness of reporting.

Blockchain works by providing a shared digital ledger of trusted information that cannot be edited and is not controlled by any one person.  It promises to provide at the speed of a webpage load a full history of a product, service or idea. 

This same technology is also being tried by the world's largest food retailers like Walmart who are perhaps more concerned with quickly tracking the source of food contamination in the event of an outbreak or health scare.

Dan Charles / NPR

The Saint Louis-based company that makes dicamba is responding to a proposed ban on the high-tech weed killer for the 2018 growing season.

Ty Vaughn, global regulatory vice president for Monsanto, said the company is disappointed and troubled by a vote from the state plant board to pursue a ban on farm applications of dicamba after April 15.  Vaughn said dicamba is being used successfully in other states.

“We’ve seen growers in 33 states over the past year have really good success with our system.  Our main goal here is to allow growers in Arkansas to have the same access,” said Vaughn.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

At the ranch on County Road 766 in Jonesboro, a pretty silvery-white calf born just three days earlier was happily playing and running around on a field. He’s one of the newest members of Arkansas’s collective herd, population 1.75 million.

“The last bull we bought cost $3,600, and he’s a good bull, but probably the next one we buy will be higher than that.  You have to look for traits that will improve the calves that you already have,” said rancher Eric Grant. 

There’s a dent in the fence from when a massive bull tried to hurl himself through it to get to a cow.  The bull seems to have an uncanny sense for when a cow is in heat even several fields away, Grant said.

National Fallen Firefighters Association

About one in four first responders suffers from moderate to major depression, according to an ongoing University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences study that seeks to examine the effects of job stress on firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Married to a firefighter herself, Sara Jones, a psychiatric nurse practioner and assistant professor in the College of Nursing at UAMS, said much research has gone into the causes and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and law enforcement officers but not much is known about the effects of trauma on firefighters and EMT’s.

Arkansas continues to struggle with one of the highest obesity rates in the country, a new State of Obesity report released Thursday confirms.

A team from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to come up with state rankings by weight.

Arkansas’s obesity rate stood at 35.7 percent in 2016. In other words, one in three adults is classified obese. Arkansas tied with Alabama in the ranking as the third worst state in the nation.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has spared the life of one death row inmate on the same day that he set an execution date for another.

Following a routine 30-day comment period, the governor announced Friday that he’ll grant clemency to Jason McGehee.  McGehee was one of eight Arkansas inmates scheduled for execution in April, and the first to have his lethal injection stayed by a court.

Anti-death penalty activists argued that McGehee’s age (21) at the time of the crime ought to be considered, as well as the fact that two alleged accomplices in the beating death of John Melbourne, Jr., 15, in 1996 were given life sentences and not the death penalty.

At least two Arkansas residents found themselves the target of a social media doxxing this weekend, following the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that turned violent this weekend.

Doxxing comes from the word document and refers to the outing of a person’s real identity on social media to get revenge for something they did.

Or didn’t do, in this case.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

The subject quickly turned to dicamba during Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s two-day, seven-county tour across east and northeastern Arkansas.   The tour stopped in rural Leachville on Wednesday so the governor could meet with farmers where they live and grow their crops.

The controversial weed killer is currently on a 120-day ban for farm applications in Arkansas and Missouri amid complaints that it can be carried by the wind to neighboring farms and settle on to crops where it isn’t intended.

“I know that here in Mississippi County particularly, it’s like ground zero for the problems with dicamba,” said the governor.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

On a recent summer afternoon, workers and trucks buzzed in and out of a pump station under construction in DeValls Bluff.  Several miles away, the site of what will eventually be a 100-acre regulating reservoir is currently filled with dirt.

Already 17 years in the making, the project tends to spark cycles of controversy among those who say it’s a badly needed solution to the region’s water woes and those who say it’s too large of a financial and environmental burden.  Such woes include rapidly dwindling ground water.

Pixabay

Arkansas State Police will distribute two canisters of the nasal spray Narcan to troopers so they can revive a drug addict suffering from an opioid overdose.  The drug blocks the effects of overdose, which otherwise would slow and eventually stop the person’s breathing.

Having the antidote in the hands of first responders may be particularly helpful in rural parts of the state, according to spokesperson Bill Sadler.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

About one in three Arkansas residents is obese, and doctors say it’s leading to people dying much younger than they need to, and leading unhealthier lives in the meantime.

“They have more co-morbidities, which means they have other disease processes that basically can shorten their lifespans, such as diabetes and hypertension and heart disease,” said Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.  He said since the human body is not meant to carry hundreds of extra pounds, morbidly obese humans may suffer severe hip, joint, knee or ankle pain.

Arkansas Children's Hospital

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data center finds that heart disease is the fifth-highest cause of death for children and teenagers in Arkansas. 

At five-percent, heart disease is dwarfed by other causes, such as accidents, which account for 34 percent of childhood deaths. But doctors say heart disease can still endanger kids and put many others at risk for problems in adulthood and lead to heart attacks under the age of 40.

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

CLARIFICATION: Michele Reba is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Delta Water Management Research Unit. Her affiliation was misrepresented in an earlier version of this story.

Four Arkansas farms have made a deal with the world’s largest software maker, Microsoft. The Whitaker Farms in McGehee, Isbell Farm in Stuttgart, Hooks Family Farm in Hazen and Florenden Farms in Burdette join two farms in California and one in Mississippi as the first recipients of carbon credits for rice production. 

The program rewards farmers for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from rice, considered among the more environmentally damaging of all crops.  With a carbon credit, companies can exceed emissions caps by paying for reductions elsewhere, such as on a farm. 

A poll released by the American Medical Association this week finds that both the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, in place since 2014, and the Republican American Health Care Act under consideration in the Senate, have image problems among Arkansas voters. Medicaid, meanwhile, is pretty popular.

The survey conducted by Alexandria, Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies finds that 44 percent of registered Arkansas voters sampled oppose the program commonly known as Obamacare.  The Republicans’ American Health Care Act, which is not law but would replace Obamacare, is opposed by 40-percent of respondents in its current form.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

I arrived at Riverside Park in Batesville where white nationalists were gathering for an anti-Shariah law demonstration, and took a few minutes to gather my thoughts and nerve before I approached them.  I had never covered a race rally before and wasn't sure what to expect.  It felt unpredictable.

"This probably isn't the safest part of your job, is it?" said Jordan Gould, one of the day's counterprotesters, who offered to jump in his car and lead me to the other side of the White River when my GPS couldn't find the way. My colleague, KASU-89.1 news director Johnathan Reaves, stayed behind to cover the counter-protest, and it was my job to obtain interviews from Billy Roper and his band of white nationalists.

The task  was to obtain both some audio and some personal understanding of the rally members' agenda.  My guide wished me luck and left, and I took a few minutes to observe the white nationalists before approaching them.

Tyson Foods

Springdale-based Tyson Foods has confirmed that one of the victims of a shooting incident in Alexandria, Virginia this morning is Matt Mika, its Director of Government Relations.  The attack also injured Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson), a Congressional aide and two Capitol police officers.

Mika is hospitalized in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital, according to his friend, former Michigan Congressman David Palsrok.  Mika's parents also released a statement confirming that he is in critical condition as he undergoes surgery for multiple gunshot wounds.  

They are on their way from East Lansing, Michigan to Washington DC to be with their son.

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

A wall of police officers stood between two groups of protestors at Riverside Park on the banks of the White River in Batesville on Saturday afternoon, as the groups hurled insult after insult at each other over race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation.

“Our position is that we are here to make sure everyone gets their voice, everybody has the right to free speech, and that nobody gets hurt,” said Police Chief Alan Cockrill.

Cockrill called in all available help, including auxiliary police officers, after news broke that the well-known Billy Roper, a local leader in the white nationalist movement, planned an anti-Sharia law rally at the pavilion at the 

park. 

The 3rd Annual Tracking Report from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement finds that the state is having success with a new health care business model that puts the focus on improved outcomes and cost savings.  
Unlike fee-for-service, the model used by the vast majority of health care providers, the Health Care Payment Improvement Initiative offers no financial incentive for ordering unnecessary tests.  Providers instead earn bonuses for improved outcomes for patients and for reducing costs.

It’s already saved the state some $54 million in Medicaid costs, according to Mike Motley, assistant policy director at ACHI.  The tracking report found that total Medicaid costs predicted at $660.9 million came in at $606.5 million in 2015, due to cost avoidance.  The savings were then shared between the state and the providers who helped avoid unnecessary costs.

Motley said the value-based model benefits patients as well by emphasizing outcomes and putting them in closer contact with their caregivers.

UAMS

Physician assistants don’t have the same level of education as a doctor but do many of the same things, but they're being credited with helping to fill some of the scheduling gaps that have long been a problem in rural Arkansas.

Supporters of the profession say physician assistants can help with writing prescriptions for common illnesses, setting simple fractures and assisting with long-term management for illnesses such as diabetes.  Physician assistants were also the highest level of medical professional to attend the recent executions in Arkansas.

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

A Communications degree student due to graduate this week from Arkansas State University finished off her college journalism career with an interview with Hollywood actor and director Stephen Baldwin filmed at the university's television studio.

“I’m a little nervous,” Destiny Quinn admitted as she paced around, anxiously checking her phone every few minutes for a text from Baldwin, who was running late but had promised her an interview about politics, his acting career and life in general.

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

 Volunteers from Walnut Ridge and Hoxie came together Wednesday to fill as many sandbags as possible to help out neighbors and friends whose homes are in the path of the rising Black River in Northeast Arkansas. “We’ve done over 1,000 today,” said Chris McDole with the Walnut Ridge street department.

Arkansas has carried out its final execution for the month of April.

Eight death row inmates were scheduled to die in less than two weeks in Arkansas in four double executions. Ultimately, four inmates were executed, including one double execution.

Death row inmate Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.  The lethal injection began at 10:52 p.m.

Williams' execution, which had been scheduled for 7 p.m., was on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed legal challenges. It ultimately denied all claims.

Corrections Department

Updated at 7:45pm:  The state is holding off on the execution until it hears from the U.S. Supreme Court.  Kenneth Williams' death warrant expires at midnight.

A recent series of executions in Arkansas could conclude tonight if the state puts inmate Kenneth Williams to death.  He is currently scheduled for lethal injection at 7pm, and his attorneys are spending the day exploring last-minute legal options for a stay. 

By early afternoon, Williams had lost all claims to the state Supreme Court but still had a complaint pending in Circuit Court of Pulaski County claiming that he is at high risk for a painful death from the three-drug lethal injection cocktail due to sickle cell trait, Lupus and organic brain damage.  His supporters have also claimed that Williams has a low I.Q. (70) and should not be eligible for the death penalty.

The Arkansas executions quickly took over Twitter Monday evening, as those watching the events furiously tweeted rage, regret, sorrow and celebration in 140 characters or less.

Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death penalty activist who was portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking,” tweeted all evening about seeking a last-minute miracle, ultimately resigning to the fact that the executions would take place and asking for the victims’ families to be included in prayers.

Corrections Department

With his death warrant set to expire at midnight, inmate Ledell Lee died at 11:56pm, as confirmed by the Corrections Department.  After another day of legal drama, the execution got underway shortly after word came that the U.S. Supreme Court would not take action to prevent the state from putting Lee to death via lethal injection.

Lee claimed that he was innocent in the February 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese during a robbery in her home.  Prosecutors said he beat Reese multiple times with a tire iron and had a previous history of brutal assaults on women.  Lee was 51 when he died Thursday night, the first of several planned executions.

The other executions are set for April 24 and April 27.

Update at 11:42pm:  The execution of Ledell Lee is underway, according to the Corrections Department. 

Update at 11:21pm: Signs are pointing to the Ledell Lee execution taking place before midnight, when his death warrant expires. 

Update at 10:30pm: Lee has lost all requests to the 8th Circuit Court.  The U.S. Supreme Court is now the focus. 

From previous reports:

Inmate Ledell Lee could become the first Arkansas prisoner put to death in twelve years as early as tonight.

The state Supreme Court has allowed the use of vecuronium bromide, the second of three drugs to be administered as part of a lethal injection cocktail.  On Wednesday, a judge had blocked the use of the drug.  The state then sought and received a fast reversal from the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Lee has been on death row for the beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese during a robbery in her home in February 1993 and was called a "super predator" by prosecutors for other alleged attacks on women.

After a dizzying day of legal drama, the execution of inmate Don Davis was called off with moments to spare.  Davis, who was taken to a "quiet room" and given his last meal, was not put to death by lethal injection after the US Supreme Court refused to lift a stay from a state court.  The state had made preparations for the execution while seeking an emergency decision from the nation's highest court.  Witnesses were in place when word came shortly before midnight that the justices had denied the request to vacate the stay via a simple, one-sentence decision.

Amhest College

There were a number of signs that the Arkansas executions were headed for a last-minute stay, according to an Amherst College professor who has studied and written extensively on the history of capital punishment in the United States.

“I don’t think it’s a surprising development,” said Sarat, who first spoke with Arkansas Public Media several weeks ago and then agreed to a follow-up interview following news of the stays.

Sarat said the decision may have hinged on the fast pace of the executions, which would have seen seven men put to death via lethal injection over a ten day period. An eighth inmate was granted a reprieve previously.

To the eight men scheduled to be executed over 10 days this month by the state of Arkansas, the question is when. When will they die? On the day and time of the state's choosing — April 17, 20, 24 and 27 — or some later date, dependent on a court-ordered stay of their execution? For others without more than a passing interest in the news, the question might be why, followed by how.

How does the state end the life of an inmate, without pain but without error?

In Arkansas's case, the answer, for better or worse, is lethal injection. 

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