Death row inmate Jason McGehee granted reprieve from death sentence by Gov. Hutchinson

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 8,273 views 

On the same day he set an execution date for death row inmate Jack Greene, Gov. Asa Hutchinson granted clemency to Jason McGehee. The inmate’s sentence changes from death to life in prison without parole.

McGehee was one of the eight death row inmates scheduled to be executed in April, with McGehee’s execution set for April 27. However, the State Parole Board on April 4 recommended the governor grant clemency to one of the condemned, Jason McGehee.

“My intent to grant clemency to Mr. McGehee is based partly on the recommendation of the Parole Board to commute his sentence from Death to Life Without Parole,” Gov. Hutchinson said in the Friday (Aug. 25) statement. “In making this decision I considered many factors including the entire trial transcript, meetings with members of the victim’s family and the recommendation of the Parole Board. In addition, the disparity in sentence given to Mr. McGehee compared to the sentences of his co-defendants was a factor in my decision, as well.”

McGehee was convicted in the Boone County Circuit Court on Jan. 8, 1998, of capital murder in killing of John Melbourne Jr. and sentenced to death. The presiding Judge in the case has recommended clemency, bu the Boone County Prosecutor and Sheriff have raised objections.

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 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. 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.

John Williams, assistant federal public defender and attorney for McGehee, said the governor was wise to show mercy.

“Today Governor Hutchinson announced his intention to commute Jason McGehee’s sentence from death to life without parole. In doing so, he accepted what the Arkansas Parole Board previously acknowledged: that Jason’s youth at the time of his offense and his rehabilitation while in prison make him deserving of clemency. This is a just outcome given that Jason’s equally culpable co-defendants are serving sentences less than death. Jason’s case offers a prime example of why clemency is a necessary part of capital sentencing. The Governor has used this power appropriately and wisely here. We are grateful for his decision to show mercy.”

Also on Friday, Gov. Hutchinson set a Nov. 9 execution date for Jack Greene, opening the door for Arkansas’ fifth death sentence in 2017.

The scheduled trip to the death chamber, which will take place exactly two weeks before Thanksgiving, comes just over a week after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge sent a letter to Hutchinson requesting an execution date be set for longtime death-row inmate convicted of capital murder on Oct. 15, 1993 and sentenced to death in the Circuit Court of Johnson County.