After Tuesday's column, if anyone believes us to be "soft on crime," we refer you to today's list of pardon and commutation recommendations and denials from the Arkansas Parole Board. The circumstance of the story once told by comedian Richard Pryor were not amusing, but his punchline, "Thank God we've got penitentiaries" has stayed with us through the years. The Parole Board decided that the commutation requests made by three South Arkansas murderers are "without merit." A brief review. In January 1975, Carolyn Dianne Zachry of Ashdown paid two men (the exact amount is in dispute) to kill her husband -- the men took Curtis Eugene Zachry to a remote location under the pretense of being interested in buying real estate, robbed him and shot him multiple times. She is serving a life sentence for capital murder. On New Year's Day 2000, Sevier County Deputy Sheriff Joe Barnhill Jr. was asked by his father, former Sheriff Joe Barnhill Sr., to perform a "welfare check" on a friend of the senior Barnhill, Sherrill Whitten. The father didn't know at the time that his son, the deputy, was in fact the killer -- Barnhill Jr. had shot Whitten eight times in the head and stole $300 and credit cards. One of Whitten's credit cards was in Barnhill's possession when he was arrested, and other receipts for Whitten's cards were found in Barnhill's vehicle. Barnhill was convicted of capital murder. Also in 2000 in Sevier County, Joe Copeland told friends at a swimming party on the Cossatot River that he was going to kill Dennis Arnold, in the belief that Arnold had stolen $2,500 from him. One of the friends told Arnold about the threat. Arnold tried to leave the scene. Copeland shot him five times in the back of the head. Copeland told arresting lawmen that "I shouldn't have done it, but I was high on drugs." But in a later interview, Copeland said he felt good about killing Arnold, an investigator recounted, because "that's what happens when someone steals from him." Copeland was convicted of first-degree murder. We stand by our earlier assertion that Arkansas' criminal justice system needs a greatly enlarged mental health treatment and therapy component, but when it comes to such heinous crimes, yes, thank God we've got penitentiaries.
A friend passed along a brochure from the Old State House Museum in Little Rock, which notes an artifact with a Magnolia connection. The brochure has a photograph of a Soap Box Derby car designed and built by Wally Waits of Magnolia. He won the 1960 Arkansas State Soap Box Derby championship with the vehicle, and placed eighth in the U.S. finals held in Akron, OH, that same year. Fun to think about.
We invited our Facebook readers to tell us where they were and what they were doing on Sunday, July 20, 1969. In case you've forgotten, that was the date that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on the moon, as Michael Collins orbited overhead. We watched the event on the McNeill family's first color television set and were somewhat sore by the fact that the moon landing was broadcast in black and white -- the color films and pictures you've seen of the event were shot by the astronauts and developed later. It was quite the day.
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