Former death row inmate: planned executions are 'conveyor belt of death'

(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

(WMC) - In less than a week, the first of seven men is scheduled to be executed in Arkansas.

"There's always, always the possibility the person you're killing is innocent," former death row inmate Damien Echols.

Echols, 42, spent almost two decades on death row accused in the 1993 murders in West Memphis of three 8-year-old boys. He was part of the West Memphis Three. He was released after pleading guilty to the murders, but still maintains he is innocent under an Alford plea.

Now, Echols is scheduled to be back in Arkansas for the first time since his release in 2011 for a protest Friday in Little Rock over the seven executions scheduled over a 10 day period this month. The first two executions are scheduled for Monday.

"Hearing that many people are going to be executed at one time, it's like you're hearing that they've decided. They're going to have a conveyor belt of death," Echols said.

Echols lived with some of the seven men scheduled for execution this month. He said he saw several condemned men while he was on death row make the walk of death row heading to the execution chamber.

"You wish there was something you could do to help," he said. "You share that person's terror because you know them. You're with them on a daily basis."

Echols is reluctant to return to Arkansas, but he wants to bring focus to the death row inmates he lived next to on death row.

"There's always the horrendous fear that I'm, for some reason, going to be trapped there and never be able to get out again," Echols said.

One of the death row inmates, Jack Jones Jr, committed the murder and rape of bookkeeper Mary Phillips in Bald Knob, Arkansas, just about an hour and a half from Memphis. It's a crime many in the Bald Knob community will never forget.

Governor Asa Hutchinson has scheduled the seven executions to happen before the state's supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month. Midazolam is a sedative used in lethal injections.

West Memphis resident Lydell Gray doesn't think much of the state's plan for the executions.

"It's just ridiculous. It's like it's a big rush for what," Gray said.

Despite being in favor of the death penalty, Gray said the way these are scheduled is too much.

"I think it's a little extreme. I don't think they should be going that rapidly, especially with the concern about the different drugs they are using," Gray said.

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