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.

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. 

Grove Pashley

Next month the state of Arkansas will execute eight of its 33 inmates, in pairs over four evenings and by lethal injection.

For more than 18 years Damien Echols was one of those on death row. He knows all eight men and says Don W. Davis, scheduled to die April 17, "kept me alive." 

Here's his full Arkansas Public Media interview with reporter Ann Kenda in which he talks about the justice of capital punishment, life on death row, life after death row and his wife, Lorri, whom he married while on the block. 

Echols was reached at his home in New York. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

The same week that federal Republicans unveiled a proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ARKids First program which they say sent the state’s uninsured rates for children plummeting from 25 percent to less than five percent.

ARKids First offers a Medicaid option for kids from low-income families as well as a second option for kids from moderate-income families.  Two parents with two kids on a household income of less than $51,273 would be eligible for ARKids B, while a single parent with one child and an income of less than $22,748 would be eligible for the Medicaid option.  The program is not often referred to as Medicaid but simply as ARKids First.

Ann Kenda

The bad-boy of Enrico Fermi High School is less than welcome when he unexpectedly returns to school as a revenant zombie in Arkansas State University Theater’s production of Zombie Prom, which opens on Friday in the Drama Theatre at the Fowler Center.  After all, Rule Number 7, Subsection 9 of the Handbook of Student Life clearly states “no zombies,” according to the school’s principal, Miss Strict.

Still, Zombie Jonny, who died three weeks earlier when he flung himself into the cooling tower of the Francis Gary Powers nuclear plant in a fit of teenage heartbreak, is determined to graduate and win back the heart of good-girl Toffee and take her to the prom.

“I have to go back behind stage and I have a whole amazing crew that helps me get the makeup on and prepare for that, and it all has to happen in less than 10 minutes, so it’s going to be awesome to see it on stage,” said theater major Zac Passmore, who plays Jonny.  He was attracted to the role of the only actual zombie in the story because of its lead vocals — Zombie Prom is, of course, a musical — and the challenges of playing a larger-than-life character authentically.

Clayton Hotze

There are many lessons to be learned from one of the most infamous tweets in social media history.

“It was like misogyny, within the warm glow of self-righteousness,” said Welch author and filmmaker Jon Ronson.

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

Sales tax on soda will go up from 1.5% to 6.5% in Arkansas next year, under a bill signed by Gov. Hutchinson that aims to raise millions for military retiree tax cuts.  The increase is coupled with a tax reduction on the wholesale price for the syrup used by beverage makers, which has advocates for the poor complaining that the higher tax will be paid only by consumers.

The increase comes at a time when soda has largely fallen out of favor with consumers, as they seek healthier alternatives.  PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) spent its advertising dollars this year on a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl promoting its new LIFEWTR premium bottled water instead of its traditional cola drinks.

Johnathan Reeves / KASU

About thirty people attended a meeting at the Jonesboro Public Library’s Round Room Wednesday evening to discuss the issues and challenges facing the gay and transgender populations in Arkansas under the new Trump administration.

“So we really do see that the transgender community is very marginalized.  We see that within health care.  We see that within protections,” said James Rector, field organizer with the Human Rights Campaign of Arkansas.

Ann Kenda/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Cookies, cake, potato chips, ice cream, soda and even energy drinks — these are some of the foods and beverages deemed to cause obesity, cavities and other health problems and thus would not be eligible for purchase with food stamps, under a "junk food" bill wending its way through the General Assembly.

Monday, it passed out of the House by a vote of 55-39.