Family memories cut short common theme of actions among Death Row inmates set to die

by George Jared ([email protected]) 3,987 views 

Editor’s note: The following is the first of two stories about Arkansas murder cases involving eight of the men originally set for execution. The information was gleaned from court documents, police reports and published accounts. Some details are graphic. The second story will publish Thursday.
Genie Boren knew something was terribly wrong. She returned to her Grady-area home, and the place was ransacked. Guns were missing, and so was her 57-year-old husband, Cecil who had been working in the garden when she left.

Panicked, she called neighbor Kay McLemore. The two began to search. They found Cecil facedown in a nearby bayou. The beloved father and husband had been shot seven times and wasn’t wearing socks or shoes. No one knows if he begged for mercy, or attempted to fight his attacker. Scrape marks on his body indicated he had been dragged to the spot. A pool of blood near the home meant he was shot there. His killer, escaped convicted murderer Kenneth Williams, took the man’s clothes, money, guns, rings, and truck after he stole Cecil’s life.

Williams was apprehended one day after the killing, on Oct. 4, 1999. He was reportedly wearing his victim’s clothes. A year later he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

“The meeting of my brothers and sisters when we get together, it will never be the same,” Cecil’s sister, Annette Boren Knight, said to jurors at Williams’ sentencing. “We ask ourselves what we can do in situations like this. Well, we can’t do anything as a family but hold together and pray together … you can do something … what would you do if it was your brother, or your sister, or your baby that someone stole away from you. I can’t do anything, but you can.”

He is slated to die later this month, along with seven other Arkansas Death Row inmates. One of those inmates, Jason McGehee, was granted an execution injunction Thursday (April 6). The Arkansas Parole Board has recommended McGehee receive clemency. The six other men slated for execution – Don Davis, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson, Ledelle Lee, Marcel Williams, and Jacks Jones – have also asked courts to stay their executions. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is attempting to carry out eight executions in 10 days, an unprecedented event in U.S. legal history, according to experts.

Williams’ journey to the state’s Death Row began less than a year before his encounter with Cecil Boren. Williams approached two college students, Peter Robertson and Dominique Hurd, a cheerleader at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, in a restaurant parking lot Dec. 13, 1998 in Pine Bluff. He brandished a gun and kidnapped them. He directed the couple to an ATM machine where he stole $70 from Robertson’s account.

He ordered them to drive down several dead-end streets. At one point he told the couple to exit the car, and forced Robertson to take pictures of Hurd after Williams removed her underwear. They drove down another dead-end street and he ordered them to climb a fence and kneel behind a shed. He was about to drive away when he stopped and opened fire on the couple. Hurd was killed.

After his first degree murder conviction, Williams was transported to the Cummins Unit in Grady. The morning he killed Cecil Boren, Williams was released from the barracks around 7 a.m. to conduct religious prayer. The area designated was near the prison kitchens. He escaped inside a “slop tank” filled with food scraps. The normal tank had a gate on it, but it had a flat tire that morning. The reserve tank didn’t have a gate. Within a mile of the Boren home, Williams jumped out of the tank, and hid in a ditch. He removed his prison garb and soon encountered Cecil.

Kenneth Williams

Williams took the man’s truck and headed north. In Missouri, he got into a high speed chase with law officers. During the chase that spanned almost 60 miles starting in Lebanon, Mo., Williams drove at speeds more than 120 miles per hour. He struck another vehicle, killing the driver, Michael Greenwood. After police arrested him following a short pursuit on foot, Williams reportedly spat at Greenwood’s body and blamed him for his failed escape attempt. He was wearing two of Cecil Boren’s rings when he was arrested.

Williams later admitted in a lengthy letter to killing another man after he was sentenced to death. He is slated to die April 27.

Cecil’s daughter, Holly Boren King, told jurors during his sentencing phase she had a special tradition she always shared with her father, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Each night she would kiss him on his forehead. She remembers vividly the last time she did just that.

“The last time I was able to kiss him on his forehead, he was in his casket,” she said.

• Jason McGehee
An incorrectly filled-out check may have cost 15-year-old John Melbourne Jr. his life.

Jason McGehee, then 20 was the ring leader of a check forging scam. At the time, he lived in Harrison, Ark. He would sometimes send the youngest member of their group, John Melbourne to cash the checks.

Melbourne entered a local store Aug. 19, 1996. The check was filled out incorrectly, and the store refused it. Later in the day Melbourne returned to cash a second check. The store manager grew suspicious and called police. Melbourne was arrested. He confessed and gave the police details.

Jason McGehee

McGehee had a troubled childhood. His father killed several family pets in front of him, and he was often made to sleep outside with the dogs. His parents had little to do with him. He was prone to rage-fueled outbursts. McGehee was outraged with Melbourne’s betrayal. When Melbourne returned to the house, McGehee and two cohorts began to beat Melbourne inside the home. The beating lasted more than an hour. A neighbor witnessed part of the beating.

“We’re just trying to teach him a lesson,” McGehee told the neighbor.

The trio decided to take Melbourne to an abandoned house near Omaha, a tiny Ozark hamlet, nestled in the rural woods near the Arkansas/Missouri border north of Harrison. During the trip, Melbourne was asked if he knew how it felt to know “he was going to die.”

Melbourne was taken into the woods near the house. His hands were bound with an electrical cord. He was tortured and strangled. McGehee told another witness at the crime scene who didn’t walk into the woods that John was “fine.” The killers escaped to Utah were they were apprehended more than a week later. Melbourne’s body was discovered about two weeks after his death. McGehee’s two cohorts were convicted of capital murder. McGehee was the ringleader, according to prosecutors, and he received a death sentence.

McGehee was scheduled to be executed April 27, but Judge D. Price Marshall granted an execution injunction April 6. The Arkansas Parole Board has also recommended McGehee receive clemency from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

John Melbourne Sr. asked the board to reject the clemency request, according to The Associated Press.

“John didn’t have this. Even though he was begging for his life and was hurting. He didn’t have this and begged for his life, too. He didn’t have ya’ll,” the father said.

• Stacey Johnson
Death came knocking at Carol Heath’s door.

The young mother of two let Stacey Johnson into her De Queen-area apartment. Her daughter Ashley, 6, watched with her two-year-old brother Jonathan from an adjacent bedroom as a fight unfolded between the two. Ashley recalled the man visiting the apartment before. He seemed upset that her mother was dating another man. At one point she saw her mother laying on the floor and bleeding. Johnson left. The children were too terrified to check on their mother.

Early the next morning, April 2, 1993, Heath’s sister-in-law Rose Cassidy arrived at the apartment. Cassidy opened the unlocked apartment door and made an appalling find. Heath’s nude, blood covered body was on the floor. The only article of clothing on her body was a shirt that had been tied around her neck, concealing a deadly slash mark.

Stacey Johnson

There was no semen recovered on or in the victim, but a condom box was found in the bathroom, and a douche bottle was also at the scene. Forensic pathologist testified later that if those items were used it would be difficult to recover any sperm.

The woman had several abrasions and bruises to her face, and defensive wounds on her hands. Bite marks and abrasions were found on her breasts. A hair from the killer was recovered on her body.

A few days later the victim’s purse was found in the woods between De Queen and Horatio. A bloody pull-over shirt, a bloody t-shirt, and bloody towel were found near the purse. Ashley told investigators the man in the house wore a green shirt. Johnson’s step-mother told police she’d given him the shirts, which belonged to his father, to wear just prior to the murder. Forensic pathologists believe blood recovered from the green shirt matched Heath. Cigarette butts and other hairs were retrieved from the scene. Hairs found were a DNA match for Johnson.

Johnson first came to De Queen in January 1993 to attend his father’s funeral. He stayed in town and met a man named Branson Ramsey. Heath was dating Ramsey. He attended a party at her apartment one night. After Ramsey left, Johnson remained and asked Heath and another woman if they would transport drugs for him and date him. The women refused. He made the same proposal at a later day, and both women refused a second time.

Johnson was subsequently arrested in Albuquerque, N.M., about two weeks after the murder. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die.

Since his conviction, Johnson has professed his innocence and asked for new DNA testing. New tests were performed and modern analysis showed an even stronger liklihood that his DNA was at the crime scene.

Ashley publicly stated that she has forgiven Johnson and doesn’t think he should die. Her brother, Jonathan, has said Johnson should die for the death of his mother.

Johnson is slated to be executed April 20.

• Don Davis
Don Davis roamed a Rogers-area neighborhood Oct. 12, 1990. In one particular home he stole a number of items including a television, microwave, an arsenal of guns, and other items. He stacked his stolen goods in his car. He needed a place to hide.

He parked his car in a garage. The home owners were gone.

At 10 p.m. that night businessman Richard Daniel returned to his home in the same neighborhood. He was immediately alarmed when he walked in the door and found a Kool cigarette butt in a bowl of rice in the kitchen. Neither he, nor his wife, 62-year-old Jane Daniel smoked. He searched the house. He found her dead in a storeroom. She’d been shot in the head execution style.

Don Davis

The same day Jane Daniel was murdered, Davis returned to his apartment and his roommates told authorities he was acting nervous. He often brought stolen goods to the apartment, but this day he acted different. He told them someone had been injured during one of his burglaries. The items in his possession at the time matched ones stolen from the houses.

“I don’t know why I shot her, she was cooperating,” he reportedly said.

Davis took the stolen wares and dumped them in a wooded, remote area in Benton County. Davis sold several stolen items at local pawn shops, and then he fled to Las Vegas. The items were recovered in the woods, and the apartment was ultimately search.

The gun used to kill Jane Daniels was recovered in the apartment. FBI agents tracked Davis down and he reportedly asked the agents to get his Kool brand cigarettes out of his car before he was whisked away. He was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Years after his conviction Davis told Arkansas Matters the younger version of him deserved to die for his crime. But in prison he’d become repentant man.

“What I did was an act of cowardice; it was cold blooded. It was evil,” he said. “There is nothing I wouldn’t give to take back that moment. There is nothing I can do.”

Some organizations have questioned whether Davis is fully mentally competent. Amnesty International issued a letter asking members to write appeal letters to authorities in Arkansas. The letter states Davis suffers from ADHD and it may have been a contributing factor in Jane Daniels death.

Jane Daniels husband and daughter, Susan Khani has repeatedly said Davis deserves to die for his crime. He is slated to be executed April 17.

“My son will never have a grandmother to come and pick him up and take him somewhere and to hug him,” Khani told Arkansas Matters.