State's Execution Debate On Twitter: No Mercy, No Comment

Apr 16, 2017

Arkansas state Reps. Charles Blake (left) and Bob Ballinger have been sparring over the rightness of the death penalty on Twitter.
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Easter morning Arkansas politicians shared their faith with Twitter followers. Have a blessed Easter, He is risen, went a Arkansas House Majority account tweet that was dutifully retweeted by some members of the House Republican majority. 

Tonally it was a shift from the day before, and before the day was over it would shift again, back to the big news of the weekend, two judges' stays of Arkansas's scheduled executions set to begin today. 

As of Sunday, state Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had filed a motion to appeal Judge Kristine Baker's ruling earlier Saturday that agreed in part with the inmates' claims that Arkansas's lethal injection protocol "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain."

State Rep. Charles Blake (D-Little Rock) has been perhaps the most outspoken opponent on Twitter of the state's plan to execute men this month. His tweets are rejoined by a number of Republican lawmakers unsettled that the state's schedule has been derailed.
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

One of the punchier Twitter feeds this weekend was Little Rock Democratic Representative Charles Blake's. Here’s a slice of a longer exchange Blake had with Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville). 

BLAKE: "The Constitution says no cruel and unusual punishment right? Mr. I love the Constitution. Do you respect the 8th amendment?"

BALLINGER: "How did we execute people in the 18th Century? Let's try that?"

BLAKE: "Are you advocating for 18th Century policies?"

BALLINGER: "I'm advocating we interpret the Constitution consistent with its original intent."  

Ballinger buttresses his position recounting the crimes of the men standing for execution over several posts, tagging each one with the thematically compelling but unweildy hashtag "perspective." ("Perspective" is a popular hashtag for self-help, cute animals, struggling students and other miscellany.)

State Rep. Rebecca Petty (R-Springdale) at a House subcommittee hearing in January.
Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death penalty activist portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the movie Dead Man Walking, tweeted, "Many victims' family members oppose the death penalty. I've heard from quite a few over the past couple days." To which Rep. Rebecca Petty (R-Springdale), whose 12-year-old daughter was raped and killed by an uncle, wrote back, "Now your hearing from a mom who supports it."

(All tweets are transcribed as they appear.)

Republicans saved most of their scourge for Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who performed a dramatic death penalty protest outside the Governor’s Mansion Friday, then issued a stay in the governor’s execution orders.

"Arkansas judges may be impeached by the house of representatives and convicted by 2/3 of the Senate," Ballinger tweeted, to which Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs) replied, "The time has come. Let's roll."

El Dorado Republican Sen. Trent Garner called for Griffen to resign immediately or face impeachment. He also tweeted, "Besides his inexcusable protesting, Griffen's ruling was so bad that the company who sued asked for it to be thrown out #impeachment."

In fact, the drug company McKesson Medical-Surgical filed a motion with the state Supreme Court Saturday asking it to dismiss the suit because of Baker's injunction.

 

David Couch, author of the medical marijuana amendment approved in November and a lawyer, tweeted, "I have a strong opinion on all activities by judges that could lead a person to think the process was not fair and impartial."

Former state legislator Nate Bell of Mena, who himself was the subject of a Twitter storm when he tweeted, "I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?", replied to Couch, "There's questionable, and then there's unmistakenable, in your face, beyond a reasonable doubt obvious. The latter MUST be addressed."

Griffen, for his part, told the Associated Press on Saturday, "We have never, in my knowledge, been so afraid to admit that people can have personal beliefs yet can follow the law."

Griffen's own twitter, blog and personal message tagline is "Justice is a verb."

The state’s Constitutional officers and federal congressional delegation remained silent, at least on Twitter, except U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, who offered his support to the governor, and separately, this: “Don’t let liberal lawyers and judges, washed-up celebrities & politically correct Big Pharma steal justice from murder victims families.”