2019 Session: Bill would exempt mentally ill from death penalty

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A state representative has revived a measure that would make it more difficult for a criminal with a serious mental illness to be sentenced to death. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, would require a diagnosis of a serious mental illness before and after a death row inmate’s conviction. If the court determines the criminal has such an illness, he or she would instead serve life without parole.

Mental illness claims can tie up death penalty cases in court for years. Flowers said having this legislation in place at the start of the trial process would cut down on that.

“I believe it really helps families of victims because it helps prevent years and years and years of appeals,” she said.

Flowers calls her bill bipartisan, noting she modeled it off one passed in Indiana that was sponsored by a Republican. However, one of her colleagues, St. Rep. Rebecca Petty, R-Rogers plans to fight it.

Petty’s daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered when she was 12 years old. Her killer confessed to the crime and has been on death row for nearly 20 years.

“Today the Arkansas Democrat’s filed and ALL sponsored a bill to abolish the death penalty,” Petty wrote in a post on Facebook. “I don’t know about you but this makes me want to throw up. I am tired of my tax dollars paying for BABY KILLERS and COP KILLERS to sit on death row for many years. I am tired of legislators filing and sponsoring bills that go against the will of Arkansans. SICK AND TIRED!!!”

Flowers argues her legislation would not be retroactive. 

According to the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC), there are currently 30 men on death row in Arkansas.

An ADC spokesperson did not have a comment about the bill.

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