Friday, April 21, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Ledell Lee, serial killer

A serial killer and rapist who picked out his female victims at random more than 20 years ago in Jacksonville was executed at the Cummins Unit just before midnight Thursday. Ledell Lee, 51, convicted of a vicious murder in 1993, was executed by lethal injection after exhausting his appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lee met his end around 11:51 p.m., just minutes before his execution date was to expire. He appeared stoic and died without a struggle. Recent lethal injections in Oklahoma were reportedly botched, but Lee’s execution went off without incident.

Lee’s attorneys argued he was improperly convicted and did not have adequate representation.

He told us in a prison interview more than 20 years ago he was a victim of a police frameup and he kept maintaining his innocence until the end.

Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, convicted in a 1994 killing that started with a kidnapping at a Jacksonville gas station, could meet the same fate as Lee. Barring last-minute appeals, Williams is scheduled to be executed Monday, along with another killer. Williams’ attorneys argue that he’s too sick (he has diabetes) and overweight to be subjected to a lethal injection.

Williams was found guilty in the capital murder, kidnapping, rape and aggravated robbery of Stacey Errickson, 22, who was married to an airman at Little Rock Air Force Base.

When he set execution dates for eight Arkansas killers on death row earlier this year, Gov. Asa Hutchinson probably did not foresee the legal challenges and the worldwide publicity that would follow.

District and federal courts have challenged the mass executions as cruel and unusual punishment, and even the drug manufacturers claim they were acquired under false pretenses and should not be used in executions.

Executions by lethal injection in the latter half of April were first planned for eight men, then six, and now that number has dropped to four. They’re likely to appeal until the last minute and it’s possible that half of them will not be executed as the drugs expire next weekend.

The state Supreme Court earlier halted the executions of two men considered mentally challenged — Don Davis and Bruce Ward — and others could make similar arguments all the way to U.S. Supreme Court.

Hutchinson was determined to get the executions completed before the end of the month, when the lethal drugs are said to expire. It’s doubtful others will be found after the drugs expire.

We covered the Lee and Williams trials and interviewed Lee at the Varner Supermaximum Prison in Grady (Lincoln County). Lee killed Debra Reese not a hundred yards from The Leader and probably two others in the same area — the daughter of an alderman and a sex worker for which he was never tried since the prosecution decided capital punishment in the Reese killing would mean he would never walk out of prison alive.

The details of these horrible crimes are gruesome and even more disturbing having known one his rape victims who worked here at The Leader.

That said, it’s obvious that executions today are seldom on schedule. The endless delays are not only painful to victims’ families but, yes, also to the killers, whose on-again, off-again trip to the death chamber may constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Having met Ledell Lee, we never doubted for a second that he was a vicious, opportunistic criminal who enjoyed preying on his victims. Lee may have realized that the justice served at the end was more than deserved. After 25 years in prison, Lee probably did not look forward to another 25 years behind bars.

The lethal injection may have seemed like welcome relief.

TOP STORY >> New CD another musical gem

“Music is medicine for the soul.” — Dr. Alan Storeygard

Physician and jazz musician Alan Storeygard is as dedicated to music as he is to medicine. By day, he’s busy seeing dozens of patients at Jacksonville Medical Care.

The musical posters and reviews of his music on his office walls only hint at his commitment to a second career that has taken Storeygard around the world.

Storeygard has performed for many audiences in his career, including a fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton in 2015.

Like Denny Zeitlin, the San Francisco doctor-psychiatrist and piano player, Storeygard is a versatile pianist, composer and arranger. Storeygard harmoniously weaves jazz, blues and classical music as the mood strikes him. He has been called “a genius, a renaissance man – a world-class pianist, composer and artist.”

While Storeygard’s been influenced by Ramsey Lewis, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, he has developed his own unique style of piano jazz.

Storeygard has released five albums on his own record label, Church Jazz. He has been a member of the Recording Academy since 2003 and a voting member since 2010.

Storeygard’s newest release, “Jazz Meets the Classics,” is another musical gem. It reflects a lifetime of musical influence with his signature style. The album delivers a synthesis of symphonious classical/jazz arrangements to honor many great classical and romantic composers, along with contemporary jazz and classical artists.

The new CD includes soulful renditions of music by Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Offenbach, Tchaikovsky and more.

Jacksonville has long embraced him as a gifted musician and trusted physician. Dr. Storeygard has served his community for almost four decades as a family doctor, delivering over 1,000 babies, and working with up to five generations in one family.

“As a family doctor, I have been invited to be a part of many people’s lives, sometimes as a musician in their personal symphonies, sometimes as a guest conductor to see them through difficult medical issues, and other times as a composer or arranger to help plan the best medical path, which may involve many other doctors along the way,” he says.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minn., Storeygard’s earliest memories of music were conceived in church and by exposure to the sounds of classical greats such as Chopin and Rachmaninoff.

He recalls, “We always had a piano in the house. My two brothers and I became inspired to play the piano as we grew up listening to our father play.” His father, a chemical and mechanical engineer, was also a violinist and choir singer in the family’s local Lutheran church.

Throughout high school, Storeygard continued to pursue music but also developed a love for science. This led him to study towards an undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of Minnesota in 1973.

His calling to become a medical doctor evolved through working summers at a nursing home, where helping ill people became second nature and socially satisfying.

Storeygard graduated from Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minn., in 1977 and completed his family-practice residency program at Duke University in Durham, N.C., in 1980. He began playing jazz at parties and composed and arranged jazz for his annual medical school shows.

A newfound love also surfaced when he met his wife Paula, who was studying law at Duke at the time he was completing his residency. The two have anchored themselves in rural Jacksonville for over 35 years, continuing their careers and raising two children.

The inspiration for Storeygard’s first recording, “Church Jazz,” where he plays solo piano, was released in 2001. It emerged as his family became active members in church in 1996.

He found an opportunity to create and play jazz arrangements of popular church songs for his congregation at the First United Methodist Church. His church jazz-fusion evoked standing ovations and requests for his music to be available on CD for his community.

In 2002, “Church Jazz” was a winner in jazz piano composition at the 2002 IBLA Grand Prize International piano and voice competition in Ragusa, Sicily, which led to an invitation to perform his rendition of “Amazing Grace” at Carnegie Hall in 2003. The album was a semi-finalist in the 2004 Grammy Showcase Competition in Memphis.

Inspiring the classical vision for Storeygard’s latest album, “Jazz Meets the Classics,” concert pianist Salvatore Moltisanti, creator and artistic director of the IBLA competition, has also played a key role in Storeygard’s musical career over the last two decades. In 2011, Moltisanti invited the Alan Storeygard Trio to play his arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner with Italian Ending” in Carnegie Hall for the finale of the New York IBLA awards concert.

He also formed the Alan Storeygard Trio and Alan Storeygard Trio and Friends, with his brother, vocalist Bob Storeygard, drummer Dave Rogers and bass player Brian Wolverton.

His second album, “Just Havin’ Fun,” was released in 2006 with Rogers on drums, Joe Vick on bass and vocalist Taylor Carlisle, who sings her rendition of “Fever” to Storeygard’s arrangement.

He adapted his own interpretation of Ramsey Lewis’ jazz piano style to his arrangements on his third album entitled, “Third Time’s a Charm,” released in 2010.

His fourth album, “New Directions,” released in 2014, contains a variety of other musical ideas and friends. The album also includes a vocal version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” taken from his younger brother’s album, “If I Can Help Somebody.”

A lifetime of dedication to music, medicine and family brings Storeygard five years away from his possible retirement as a medical doctor, and yet he is highly motivated to continue to perform and share his music with the world.

He says, “It might soon be time to retire from medicine – but never from music.”

TOP STORY >> Annual event April 28-29

Leader staff writer

The 15th annual Cabot Strawberry Festival presented by the Junior Auxiliary of Cabot is Friday and next Saturday in downtown Cabot. Admission is free.

The festival starts at 6 p.m. Friday with food trucks and vendors. Local musicians take the stage with Justin Bratcher performing at 6 p.m. and Luke Williams at 7 p.m. Both are from Beebe.

The carnival will run from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday.

On Saturday the Run for the Berries, bubble-run begins at 7 a.m. behind the Fred’s store. It is a one-mile or a 5K timed race.

Next Saturday’s fun kicks off at 9 a.m. It will have 100 vendors, 45 more than last year. The city is blocking the street in front of the police department giving more room for vendors. Eight food trucks will be offering items from barbecue to home cooking. The Junior Auxiliary will be selling strawberry shortcakes and strawberry lemonades.

“We will have three strawberry farms (Barnhill Orchards, Cabot Patch and Holland Bottom Farm). Get them before noon. They typically sell out,” Junior Auxiliary president Amy Hughes said.

“A new thing for this year is the return of the Berry Patch Kids Zone. It is $5 entry per child for all day. There will be face painting, bounce houses, goodie bags and a Build-A-Pet with a custom Strawberry Festival shirt,” Hughes said.

Last year, the festival moved to downtown from the Veterans Park Community Center.

Hughes said the Junior Auxiliary had a positive response with the new permanent location. It has ease of parking, a familiar location and the city’s total support.

The Miss Strawberry Fest pageant will be at 10 a.m. at the Freshman Academy. Contestants can register online at or at the event.

Saturday’s entertainment stage will feature school acts and local performing arts during the day. The Zac Dunlap Band of Little Rock plays from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Closing out the festival is country musician Barrett Baber of Nashville, Tenn., who will perform from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The Marion native was in the Top Three in “The Voice” Season Nine. Baber released his album “A Room Full of Fighters” last year.

Proceeds from the Straw-berry Festival fund Junior Auxiliary projects for children of Cabot.

TOP STORY >> Lee executed, Williams next

Leader executive editor

A Jacksonville death-row inmate who went on a crime spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s was executed at 11:40 p.m. Thursday after he lost his final appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ledell Lee, 51, was injected with a fatal combination of drugs at the state’s Cummins Unit about five hours after his scheduled execution as he ran out his appeals in Little Rock, St. Louis and Washington. He was pronounced dead about 10 minutes later.

The scheduled execution Thursday night of a second inmate, Stacey Johnson, 47, was delayed after a successful appeal.

“We conclude that the (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkan-sas) was correct in determining that, despite the procedural shortcomings in the clemency process, the inmates received the minimal due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment,” the appeals court wrote just hours before Lee’s execution.

Lee was sentenced to die for the Feb. 9, 1993, beating and strangulation death of Debra Reese, 26, in the Sunnyside addition in Jacksonville, where he had attacked several other women.

Lee skipped his final meal and instead asked for holy communion. He claimed he was innocent until the end. After his capital murder conviction in 1995, he told The Leader in a prison interview he was framed by the Jacksonville police.

Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, who was convicted of kidnapping a woman in Jacksonville and dumping her body in North Little Rock, is scheduled to be executed Monday, along with another death row inmate. Two more executions are scheduled for Thursday.

The state Supreme Court ruled earlier Thursday to allow the use of legal drugs in Lee’s execution and seven other death row inmates. A Pulaski County court had earlier sided with McKesson Corp., which had to tried to stop the use of its vecuronium bromide in lethal injections, but the state appealed to the high court. Potassium chloride and a midazolam sedative were also used in the execution. McKesson decided not to appeal.

“We believe we have done all we can do at this time to recover our product,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “We are disappointed that the Arkansas Supreme Court has held our favorable injunction ruling in abeyance and delayed further scheduling in our case.”

Lee was also convicted of raping two Jacksonville women and was tried for the murder of Christine Lewis, the daughter of the late Alderman Robert Lewis. Lee was also suspected of killing a Jacksonville prostitute and dumping her body in a shed near the railroad tracks.

Lewis, 22, was abducted from her Sunnyside home in November 1989 as her 3-year-old child watched. She was raped and strangled and her body dumped in the closet of an abandoned home.

The jury could not agree on a verdict in that trial, but prosecutors decided not to retry him when he received the death sentence in the Reese case and was convicted for raping two women. DNA evidence tied Lee to the murders and rapes.

Reese was struck 36 times with a tire tool her husband gave her for protection while he was out of town on a truck driving job. Lee, who had just been paroled after serving time for burglary, was arrested an hour after the murder when witnesses reported seeing him walking on the street.

A 1994 trial resulted in mistrial when it was discovered that a relative of Lee’s was on the jury. During Lee’s retrial in 1995, a prosecutor offered a chilling description of Lee as a multiple rapist who hunted victims in a small area near the railroad tracks in Jacksonville.

In May 2009, the state Supreme Court upheld Lee’s death sentence and dismissed his claims he wasn’t properly presented at his trial. Lee had argued that his lawyers didn’t present witnesses he wanted at a hearing, had conflicts of interest regarding his case and failed to hire a death-penalty expert to advise them.

Lee’s appeal was one of a series he had filed since his sentencing. Previously, Lee won a rehearing on a portion of his case after showing his lawyer suffered from substance-abuse problems and likely was intoxicated during one portion of his trial.
Lee’s lawyer asked the jury to consider “who are we then to say” when someone dies.

The prosecutor later replied: “I will tell you who we are — we are the hunted.’’

The jury deliberated two hours before agreeing to the death sentence.

In an opinion in May 2009, Justice Robert L. Brown noted that Lee’s lawyer later testified that he didn’t hear the prosecutor’s remarks. Though the remarks likely were inflammatory, Brown said they wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the case.

“The jury ... heard testimony of the violent nature of the Reese murder during the penalty phase and also heard testimony that Lee had raped three different women,” Brown wrote.

In dismissing Lee’s other points, Brown wrote that defense lawyers are allowed to use their discretion in deciding which witnesses to present in a case. Brown said there wasn’t any convincing evidence that hiring a specialist for his case would have changed its outcome.

Brown also said Lee didn’t show that his lawyers failed him by not asking for an independent analysis of DNA samples. At a later hearing, Brown noted his lawyer said he didn’t think anyone other than the FBI could conduct such tests in the early 1990s.

Lee maintained his innocence and kept appealing his conviction until the end.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville cruises against Warriors

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titan baseball team had little trouble with Hall High Wednesday in a 5A/6A Central conference doubleheader. The Titans won by scores of 11-1 in five innings in game one, and 20-1 in three innings in the nightcap.

Game one’s total came despite only eight base hits. Nine-hole hitter Gabe Helsley’s plate appearances told the story.

He finished with no official at-bats, walked three times and scored three runs for a 1.000 on-base percentage.

Every Titan got on base at least twice. Jordan Wickersham also had a perfect on-base percentage, going 1 for 1 with three walks.

Jacksonville scored its first and only run of the first inning after Kameron Whitmore drew a leadoff walk, and scored three batters later on a sacrifice fly to deep right field by Caden Sample.

Quentin Stallard was hit and Helsley walked to lead off the second inning. They came around on a series of passed balls and wild pitches before scoring on a sac grounders by Caleb Smith and Trent Toney.

Joe Cummings provided the highlight of the game with a two-run home run in the third inning. Sample hit a leadoff double and Wickersham walked before Cummings dinger.

That made the score 6-0, and Jacksonville added two in the fourth and three in the fifth to set the final margin.

Trent Toney hit a double to start the fourth inning. He scored two batters later on Wickersham’s base hit. He later scored on an error.

In the fifth inning, two walks, three hit batters and singles by Smith, Toney and Jayden Loving set the final margin.

There was no slow-building lead in game two. The Titans (11-11, 6-6) scored 10 runs in the first inning, including a three-run home run by Sample.

Whitmore reached on an error and Smith walked. Toney then doubled to drive in one run, and Sample’s shot followed for a quick 4-0 lead.

The next three batters all walked before Stallard hit into a 1-2-3 double play, but Helsley got the rally going again with an RBI base hit.

It was the first of four singles in a row, one each by Whitmore, Smith and Toney followed Helsley’s knock and made the score 8-0. Sample reached on an error at first base that allowed two more runs for a 10-0 margin.

Cummings got a base hit to start a 10-run second inning. Stallard was hit and Helsley walked to load the bases. Whitmore singled, followed by three more consecutive walks. Wickersham singled and Loving doubled. Cummings was hit and Stallard singled to drive in the final runs of the game.

Whitmore, Smith and Toney had two hits apiece to lead the way offensively.

Loving pitched game one. He gave up three hits with six strikeouts and no walks in five innings of work. Ean Long got the win in game two with three strikeouts and two walks.

Hall dropped to 3-12 overall and 1-10 in league play.

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe girls sweep out Devil Dogs

Leader sports editor

The Beebe softball team has won five games in a row after picking up three wins in two days this week. On Tuesday, the Lady Badgers swept a doubleheader 7-0 and 6-0 against Morrilton. On Wednesday, they beat Pangburn 5-2 in a nonconference matchup at home.

In Tuesday’s 5A/6A District 2 twin bill, Abby Burch threw two complete-game shutouts, giving up just four combined hits over 14 innings. She threw a one-hitter in the opening game, striking out four and walking zero.

After a scoreless first inning in which Beebe failed to capitalize on having the bases loaded with no outs, the Lady Badgers got things rolling in the bottom of the second.

With one out, Lexi Devore drew a walk before a pitch hit Paige Sharp. The runners moved up a base on a passed ball, and both scored on a double to left field by nine-hole hitter Molly Poe.

Back at the top of the lineup, Katlyn Gordon doubled to right to drive in Poe. Gordon then scored on a double by Hannah Gammill with two outs to make the score 4-0.

Beebe added a run in the fourth. Poe and Gordon hit back-to-back singles with one out. Poe scored on Gordon’s hit because of an error in right field.

Beebe (14-10, 6-4) loaded the bases without a hit in the bottom of the sixth on a walk, a HBP and a single by Howell. Poe and Gordon scored again, both on errors by the Morrilton catcher that set the final margin.

Beebe only had six hits, but four went for extra bases. There were two hits each by Poe and Gordon, and one double apiece by Gammill and Howell.

The long ball led Beebe to the win in game two. Gammill, Howell and Lexy Lockhart all hit home runs.

Gammill hit a line-drive, three-run home run in the third inning. In the fifth, Howell hit a solo home run to left field with one out. Two batters later with two outs, Lockhart drove one out to the same area for a 5-0 Beebe lead.

Beebe’s last run came with the help of some small ball. Caelyn Longing hit a leadoff double before Poe laid down a bunt single. Longing was thrown out trying to steal home, but Poe scored on a base hit by Howell to set the final margin.

Howell went 2 for 3 with two RBIs, and was the only Lady Badger with multiple hits.

Morrilton dropped to 11-16 overall and 1-11 in league play.

On Wednesday, Gordon got in on the home run fun with a solo shot against Pangburn.

The fifth inning was the only scoreless one of the game. Beebe scored two in the first and one each in the second, third and fourth innings. Pangburn (18-9, 8-2) scored its two runs in the sixth and seventh.

Gordon’s home run came after falling into a 0-2 hole. She fought off two pitches with foul balls before taking ball one. She sent the sixth pitch of the at-bat over the center field fence for a 1-0 lead.

Gammill doubled that same inning, and later scored on a sac fly by Shanie Young to make it 2-0.

Sharp drew a leadoff walk in the second inning, and scored on a two-out double by Howell.

The third-inning run came on back-to-back, two-out base hits by Ashlynn Hanna and Sharp.

In the fourth inning, Beebe had Gordon and Howell on the corners after a single and an error. Gordon scored on a double-steal attempt. Howell was thrown out at second, but the throw back to the plate wasn’t in time to get Gordon, leaving the score 5-0.

Pangburn’s first run came after a leadoff single and a two-out error. Another two-out error with two runners on base accounted for the Lady Tigers’ final run.

Burch threw the first two and last two innings. She gave up five hits and two runs, but neither were earned. She struck out two and walked zero.

Faith Rose pitched the third, fourth and fifth innings. She gave up one hit with two strikeouts and no walks.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot blanks Southside

Leader sports editor

The Cabot baseball team maintained a perfect league record and a two-game lead in the 7A-Central with a 5-0 win over Fort Smith Southside on Tuesday at Brian Wade Conrade Field.

Brett Brockinton turned in a fine performance on the mound, giving up just three base hits over seven innings of work for the win.

Blake McCutchen got the Panthers off to a good start stroking a 0-2 pitch down the third-baseline for a leadoff double. He advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a sacrifice grounder to Denver Mullins for a 1-0 Cabot lead.

Evan Hooper got a short rally started with one out in the second inning with his own double to left. He moved to third on a sacrifice grounder by Caleb Harpole, and scored on an RBI single to right field by Kyler Franks.

No one scored in the third, but got back-to-back singles by Dillon Thomas and Houston King to start the bottom of the fourth.

Duncan hit into a fielder’s choice that got King thrown out at second and left runners on the corners. Hooper walked to load the bases before Eric Larsen hit a two-RBI base hit to left field to put the Panthers up 4-0.

After a pitching change, two hit batters and an error in the bottom of the sixth scored Duncan to set the final margin.

Thomas was the only player in the game with multiple hits. He went 2 for 3 while McCutchen and Hooper each hit for extra bases. King, Larsen and Franks got one base hit each.

Brockinton finished with five strikeouts and two walks.

Southside (6-14, 1-8) got one hit each by Mac Moody, Jake Melton and Matt Schilling.

The Panthers (17-6, 9-0) hold a two-game lead over North Little Rock while Conway and Bryant are 6-3.

SPORTS STORY >> SH ladies win third straight at Heber

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills girls’ track team continued to keep its winning streak going on Thursday. The Lady Bears won for the third time in a row and fourth time in five meets by taking first place in the Last Chance Relays at Heber Springs on Thursday.

Sylvan Hills’ only loss in its last five meets was at Jessieville, when it finished second by 2.5 points. It would have won that meet had it entered a team in the final event, the 4x400 relay, which the Lady Bears have run the fastest time in the state this year.

All that recent success has Sylvan Hills’ confidence high going into the postseason. The 5A-Central meet will be Tuesday at Beebe, and 5A state the week after.

“We’ve found ourselves in a good position to build upon the success of previous meets,” said Garrison. “As a young team it helps with the confidence levels of our new kids, but the real challenges are upon us. I’m confident the team will rise to the occasion.”

The Lady Bears finished with 78.50 points on Thursday to beat second-place Vilonia’s 66.50, despite several team members missing the event to prepare for prom.

Maumelle was a close third with 65 points while Sheridan and Harding Academy rounded out the top five of 25 schools represented at the meet.

Sylvan Hills held the state’s best time in the 4x100-meter relay until last week’s meet at Lake Hamilton, when Texarkana took it from them by .10 seconds. On Thursday, the Lady Bears snatched it right back. Last week, Texarkana ran a 49.08. On Thursday, the SHHS team of Ayana Harris, Mia Heard, Alexis Lee and Aliya Hatton ran a blazing 48.67.

That’s not only the best time so far this year; it’s only .3 seconds away from the Class 5A state record.

One Sylvan Hills school record fell on Thursday. Heard, a sophomore, shattered her personal best and jumped into the SHHS record books with a leap of 18-feet, 2-inches. Lonoke’s Keiunna Walker, who beat Heard in the long jump at the Jeff Henderson relays at SHHS, came up 13 inches short of her PR, jumping 16-7 to finish in seventh place.

Walker did, however, win the high jump by clearing 5-feet, 1-inch while Sylvan Hills’ Makaila Murphy jumped 4-10 for sixth place and Daviunia Jones cleared 4-8 for eighth place.

Walker and Heard also finished fifth and seventh respectively in the triple jump.

Heard added a couple strong finishes in the sprints as well. She ran a 12.83 in the 100-meter dash for six points, and a 27.01 in the 200-meter dash for fourth place. Lee took seventh in the 200 as well.

The 4x400 relay team was just a tad (.3 seconds) off the pace of its own state-best time, but still took first place easily.

That was despite not having its best 400-meter runner at the meet. Jordan Sanders, Ashley Jefferson, Daviunia Jones and Hatton ran a time of 4:08.72 to beat second-place Vilonia by almost a full 10 seconds.

Jefferson took eighth in the 800-meters, and helped the Lady Bears’ 4x800-meter relay team, which was missing two regulars, to a seventh-place finish.

Brae’zah East took fifth in the shot put with a toss of 32-0.5 and Sierra Towles was sixth in the discus with a throw of 98-4.

Lonoke’s Gracie Hyde won the 1,600 with a time of 5:18.90, and finished third in the 300-meter hurdles by running a 49.71.

Two local athletes won events in the boys’ meet as well. Sylvan Hills senior Anthony Duncan took first place in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 15.18.

Jacksonville sophomore Orion Turner won the 100-meter dash with a 11.01 against a -.7 wind resistance.

SPORTS STORY >> ’Rabbits wins league title

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke baseball team earned a share of the 3A/4A District 9 Conference championship with a doubleheader sweep at Mayflower on Thursday. The Jackrabbits pulled it off by scores of 11-10 and 8-7, and that was despite saving its best pitching for next week’s 4A-2 Conference tournament.

Even though Lonoke coach Chris Foor knew a conference championship could be on the line for the blended class league, the seedings for the 4A only district tournament had already been determined, and he focused on the future.

Lonoke and Central Arkansas Christian entered the last day of the regular season each with two losses in league play, one game behind Mayflower. CAC beat Stuttgart to finish as conference co-champs with Lonoke.

When the 4A-2 District tournament begins at Southside-Batesville next week, pulling teams from four different blended conferences, CAC will be the one seed, Heber Springs the two and Lonoke the three.

“We played to sweep this series and win that conference championship,” said Foor. “We did everything we could do within the game to win it. But we also wanted to keep our eye on the big picture. Our district seedings were already in place, so in that regard it didn’t matter what happened Thursday. We wanted all our arms fresh and everyone healthy for when it really counts. Our goal is a state championship and that’s what we’re focused on. As for these two games, the kids played wonderfully and I can’t be more proud.”

Foor only used his top four pitchers sparingly, but strategically.

Kade Stuart, the team’s No. 1 pitcher, got the win in game two, despite giving up a bases-loaded single that tied the game in the top of the seventh inning. That’s because senior Casey Martin stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom of the seventh, and smacked a game-winning, conference-championship clinching, walk-off home run.

“The guy is just an incredible player,” Foor said of the Arkansas Razorback signee. “He does it all.”

At the plate, Martin finished the night with 10 at-bats in the two games combined. He went 5 for 7 with three walks, two home runs, three RBIs and seven runs scored.

Lonoke (16-10, 12-2) used four pitchers in game one and six in game two.

In game one, Lonoke blew a 7-0 lead with one terrible defensive third inning. Several walks and errors, sprinkled with a couple of timely Mayflower base hits tied the game in the bottom of the third.

The Eagles scored two more in the fourth to go up 9-7, but Lonoke got doubles by Caleb Horton and Daulton Smith to get within one run. With two outs, Stuart hit an RBI single to tie the game. Neither team scored in the sixth, but Haven Hunter got a two-run rally in the seventh inning started with a one-out double. He scored on another RBI base hit by Stuart. After a Mayflower error moved Stuart into scoring position, a base hit by Greg Lingo made it 11-9 Lonoke.

Mayflower scored a run and had another in scoring position with no outs when Martin took the mound. The runner was thrown out on the base paths, and Martin got a strikeout and a 6-3 grounder for the save.

Will Roark pitched 1 1/3 innings in the sixth and seventh for the win.

“We had that one period in game one where we just got lax on our heels,” Foor said. “Guys that normally pump strikes in there just couldn’t land. We started missing balls and misjudging balls. We got up big and just lost our focus. You hate to see that, but I was glad that we were able to regroup. Hopefully we learned from that going into postseason; that hey, we have to stay sharp mentally or we could blow this thing.”

While the mental lapse serves as a warning, giving Foor confidence heading into postseason was the performance of young pitchers.

“We threw some guys that haven’t logged a lot of innings, put it that way,” Foor said. “Guys like Will McNeil, a sophomore I think had thrown 1/3 innings in varsity. He gave me 4 1/3 and pitched really well. Noah Mulligan hadn’t seen but maybe one inning in varsity. He gave me some valuable mound time. None of our main four guys did anything but throw their bullpens. Everyone else stepped up for us.

“Horton is a senior, but he struggled at the plate much of the year. He has been massive down the stretch. He just stuck with it and kept working. He got a big double for us in this one. Everybody hit it all up and down the lineup. That, combined with the young guys that pitched well, it gives us confidence moving forward and for the future.”

The district tournament begins Monday, but Lonoke won’t play until it faces Baptist Prep at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Bears annihilate Mustangs

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills baseball team ran roughshod over CAC on Thursday, hammering the hosting Mustangs 19-0 in the three-inning, mercy rule encounter. The Bears picked up 13 base hits and seven walks to go with four CAC errors in the nonconference blowout in North Little Rock.

Nick Fakouri and Caleb McMunn each had four RBIs while River Hunt added three to lead the way offensively. Sylvan Hills scored six runs in the first inning, five in the second and eight more in the third.

SH pitcher Cameron Flippo gave up just three hits for the win.

Michael Coven got offensive onslaught going right away by driving a full-count pitch to right field for a leadoff single. Zach Douglass flew out to center, but Fakouri walked and Ryan Lumpkin took one for the team to load the bases.

Hunt then walked for the first RBI of the game. Chaz Poppy followed that with a two-RBI double to left. McMunn hit an RBI single that scored Hunt, and an error in center field also allowed Poppy to score on the play.

McMunn then scored on a sacrifice grounder by Kyle Clayton for the 6-0 SH lead.

CAC’s best chance to score came early. Flippo walked the first two batters he faced, but then got a double-play ball to second and a weak grounder to first to get out of the jam.

Coven started the second inning just like the first, with a leadoff single. Douglass then grounded back to the pitcher, but an error left everyone safe. Fakouri, Lumpkin and Huntthen hit consecutive singles for a 9-0 lead.

After a fly out by Poppy, CAC (13-7) failed to get out of the inning when another comebacker to the mound was mishandled, resulting in two unearned runs that made it 11-0.

The Mustangs put two on with two outs in the second, but Flippo came through with his only strikeout of the game to end the threat.

The Bears (23-3, 10-0) then opened the third inning with two walks, a single and a bases-clearing double by Fakouri that made it 14-0. After a groundout by Lumpkin, Hunt and Poppy walked, and Hunt scored on an error in center field off McMunn’s bat. Clayton and Spencer Zilkey then hit RBI singles. Coven drove in a run with a sacrifice grounder and Douglass singled to left field to drive in the final run of the game.

Coven went 3 for 4. Fakouri went 2 for 2 with two walks. Clayton went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBIs.

Sylvan Hills got back to conference play with a home game against Maumelle on Tuesday, and will host Little Rock Central in a nonconference game on Thursday. Look for details of those games in Saturday’s Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Bad outing for Titan baseball

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville baseball team blew a 7-3 lead in a nonconference game at Batesville on Friday and lost 15-9. The Pioneers out-hit Jacksonville 15-7, but the Titans drew eight walks and Batesville committed four errors. The score was tied 8-8 going into the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Pioneers scored seven runs to take control.

Jacksonville loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the seventh inning, but a shallow pop-up to right field by Caleb Smith was followed by a Greg Helsley strikeout.

Kameron Whitmore was able to drive in one run with a base hit to third base, but a Caden Sample’s fly ball to center field ended the rally and the game.

All seven Batesville runs in the sixth came with two outs. A walk and a single started the inning. The next two batters grounded out, but an error by Quentin Stallard allowed one run to score. Ean Long walked the next two batters before giving up back-to-back doubles and then a single that made it 14-8.

Trent Toney took the mound for Jacksonville and gave up a single and back-to-back walks to give the Pioneers their final run.

Jacksonville scored first in the top of the first inning after Smith’s fly ball to center field was mishandled, allowing Smith to get all the way to third base. He was still there after a pair of strikeouts, but Sample singled to left for the 1-0 lead.

Batesville (7-15) opened the bottom of the first with three-straight singles to tie the game. A sac fly by Tanner Vinson gave the Pioneers a 2-1 lead. Hayden Childers then came through a double that made it 3-1.

Jacksonville (9-11) took the lead right back in the top of the second with four runs. Jordan Wickersham hit a leadoff single and Stallard singled with one out. Jayden Loving was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Smith single to drive in Wickersham. Batesville left fielder Ronnie Jeffrey whiffed on the ball trying to scoop it up, allowing Stallard and Loving to also score on the play.

Smith then scored on a passed ball for a 5-3 Titan lead.

In the top of the third, Stallard hit a two-RBI single that made it 7-3 after walks by Toney and Joe Cummings.

Two singles and a double got the Pioneers back to within 7-6 in the bottom of the third. The Pioneers took the lead in the bottom of the fourth with another single and a double.

Another Batesville error let Jacksonville tie the game in the fifth before the disastrous sixth inning.

Tristan Tate led all players with three hits in five at-bats. He scored three runs and drove in another. Jeffrey, Childers, Brayden Alveti, Logan Holman and Taylor Ford each had two base hits for the home team.

Sample and Stallard were the only Titans with multiple hits. Each had one RBI. Foster Rash started on the mound and threw four innings for the no decision.

He gave up 10 hits and six earned runs. Ean Long took the loss, leaving with two outs in the sixth after allowing seven earned runs on five hits and three walks.

Ford started for Batesville. He gave up seven runs, four earned, on five hits, three strikeouts and three walks. Vinson threw the last three innings to pick up. He gave up two earned runs on two hits and five walks.

Jacksonville hosted a conference doubleheader against Hall on Tuesday. Look for details of that game in Saturday’s Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Hot bats get two wins for Panthers

Leader sports editor

The Lady Panther softball team added two more wins since its extra-inning victory over North Little Rock last Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Lady Panthers hammered Mount St. Mary Academy 16-0 at Sherwood Sports Complex. On Friday, they won a nonconference game 13-6 over Wynne at CHS.

In Friday’s game, Cabot piled up 12 base hits while also taking advantage of seven Yellowjacket errors, many of which came in a decisive eight-run sixth-inning.

The Lady Panthers trailed 6-5 going into the bottom of the sixth, but started that inning with three-consecutive base hits, two for extra bases.

Anna Beth Duncan hit a leadoff triple to right field, and scored on a single by Rylie Walthall. Bethany Knowles then doubled to the fence in center field to put runners at second and third. Walthall then scored on a wild pitch, and Knowles scored on a grounder to second base by Grace Neal.

With the bases empty and one out, Hannah Montgomery got the rally going again with a single to center field. AubreyLee and Lauren McCluskey then drew walks to load the bases. Riley Hamilton then came through with a two-RBI double for a 10-6 Cabot lead.

After McCluskey’s courtesy runner L Smith scored on a wild pitch,

Kaitlyn Campbell’s grounder to shortstop was kicked around, leaving every one safe. Duncan grounded out to second base to score Hamilton. Campbell then scored when Walthall’s grounder to second was also misplayed.

Cabot scored an unearned run in the second after Wynne (12-11) hit a two-run home run in the first. The Lady Panthers then gave up two unearned runs on one hit, two walks and an error in the fourth.

Two Wynne errors led to a double by Campbell and a triple by Walthall to make the score 5-3 Wynne. Three-straight singles put Wynne up 6-3 with no outs in the fifth inning, but McCluskey got out of the jam with three-straight outs.

Hamilton hit a two-RBI double in the bottom of the fifth to pull the Lady Panthers to within 6-5.

Walthall went 3 for 5 with a triple and two RBIs. Hamilton went 3 for 4 with two doubles and four RBIs. Duncan was 2 for 4 at the plate with a double and a triple and one RBI.

McCluskey went the distance in the circle. She gave up eight hits and four earned runs while striking out four and walking one.

Cabot (18-3, 7-1) scored 11 runs in the second inning in Wednesday’s victory over MSM (3-8, 1-6), then added four more in the third to end the game early despite just six base hits. McCluskey threw a no-hitter over the three-inning outing. She struck out five and walked zero.

Montgomery and Walthall had three RBIs each and were the only players with multiple base hits.

The Lady Panthers hosted Fort Smith Southside on Tuesday. See a full report of that game in Saturday’s Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills girls win again

Leader sports editor

The Lady Bear track team won its second meet of the week on Friday, taking first place in the Lake Hamilton Invitational just three days after winning the Metro Invitational at North Little Rock High School.

At Lake Hamilton, the Lady Bears won three events, but had a slew of second-place finishes to earn 138 points. That beat the host school by 15 while Texarkana was third with 111. Maumelle finished fourth with 78. Vilonia scored 71 and Cabot finished sixth out of 12 teams with 63 points.

On Friday, Mia Heard got Sylvan Hills off to a great start by winning the long jump and triple jump, posting Silver status elite-level results. She jumped 17-feet, 7-inches to win the long jump, and bounded 36-01 in the triple, against a -2.7 wind.

The Lady Bears’ other event win came in the 4x400-meter relay. Sylvan Hills, which holds the best time in the state this year at 4:08.42, was just shy of that mark by .24 seconds. Ashley Jefferson, O’Shayla Muldrow, Daviunia Jones and Jordan Sanders combined for that time, beating Cabot’s Hadley Dickinson, Casey Gore, Tristyn Edgar and Lauren Turner by about 10 seconds.

Makaila Murphy and Jones were second and third in the high jump, each clearing 4-10. Alexis Lee finished third in the long jump and Makayla Smith was fifth in the triple jump for SHHS.

Jayla Bell and Sierra Towles were second and third in the discus, while Brae’zah East earned a point by finishing eighth.

The Lady Bears no longer hold the state’s best time this year in the 4x100-meter relay.

Their 49.18 was beaten by Texarkana’s 49.08, but it is still the fastest time in 5A this year. Ayana Harris, Heard, Lee and Muldrow ran a 49.22 on Friday for second place. Chanel Miller, who came from nowhere two weeks ago to turn in a state-qualifying distance in the throwing events, blew her way to second place in the 300-meter hurdles at Lake Hamilton.

She finished second to Ally Swaim of Vilonia, and beat defending conference champion and teammate Erykah Sanders by .01 with a time of 49.53.

800-meter specialist Dallyn Stubbs posted a 2:31.58 to take second in that event behind three-event winner Josie Carson of LHHS.

Muldrow, who specializes in the 400 but didn’t run that event Friday, took third in the 200m, while teammate Ayana Harris was fifth. Lee and Harris were fourth and fifth in the 100-meter dash.

Cabot also got a few wins at Lake Hamilton. Lauren Turner and Savannah Hatton finished first and second in the 400. Turner, Dickinson, Casey Gore and Brayden Giesler won the 4x800 relay with a time of 10:06.49. That beat Sylvan Hills’ second-place team of Allysia Marbley, Stubbs, Jefferson and Jones by eight seconds.

Gore also finished second to Carson in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races, while Turner was third in the 1,600.

In Tuesday’s Metro meet, the Lady Bears scored 167 points to easily out-distance second-place Parkview’s 98. The host school was third with 73 while Robinson finished fourth of 11 teams with 60 points.

In that meet, the Lady Bears picked up wins in the 4x400- and 4x800-meter relays, despite not running their strongest unit in the latter race. They didn’t even enter a team in the 4x100. The 4x800 team included Jolissa Jones, Neiahgha Thomas, Dadreuna Clingmon and Dasia Harris, which ran a time of 10:38.50 and won by more than seven seconds.

Hatton replaced Jefferson in the 4x400 relay, and that group ran a 4:08.51 to win by more than eight seconds.

Bell won the discus with a throw of 108-1. Heard won the 100-meter dash by running a PR of 12.62. Jones and Jordan Sanders were first and second in the 400-meter dash and Muldrow won the 200-meter dash with a time of 26.02. Ayana Harris took third in the 200 while Erykah Sanders and Miller were second and third respectively in the 300-hurdles.

Makayla Smith finished second in the 100-meter hurdles and Lee was third in the 100-meter dash.

Neither Cabot nor Sylvan Hills ran in the Metro meet, but both had good showings at Lake Hamilton. Cabot took fourth with 91 points while Sylvan Hills was fifth with 58.

Cabot’s Matt Stanley won the high jump by clearing 6-4. The Panthers’ 4x100-meter relay team clocked a 43.14 to edge out Bryant for first place. They did that despite missing Arkansas State signee Britton Alley, who has been hampered by injury since the indoor season.

Friday’s winning team included Alex Roberts, Brandon Whitley, Tommy Oaks and Conley Hillegas.

Hillegas also won the 200-meter dash with a time of 22.78, while Whitley was fifth and Oaks seventh in that event.

The Bears also picked up a couple of wins. Darius Waddell took firs place in the triple jump with a 42-4.50. Anthony Duncan won the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 15.08.

EDITORIAL >> Killers look for reprieve

“April is the cruelest month,” T. S. Eliot wrote, perhaps anticipating the great Arkansas morality play in which the state and its political leaders seek to execute eight prisoners before the flowering month ends and one of the government’s ill-gotten killing drugs reaches its expiration date.

What Eliot meant was that the month of refreshing rain and rebirth also brings painful memories of death and failure and a certain despondence, at least in the poet’s case. The great execution extravaganza, which has brought unwanted world attention to the state like few other events—the 1957 school integration crisis and the 1967 excavation of graves at Cummins Prison come to mind—seems to fit Eliot’s gloomy view of the month.

Arkansas has not executed anyone in 15 years, and Gov. Hutchinson scheduled eight executions—two at a time over 11 days—because one of the drugs in its killing cocktail is supposed to expire at month’s end, its effectiveness (and legality) in doubt afterward. States have been executing convicted murderers from time to time, but scheduling eight in a clump made Arkansas look especially callous, bloodthirsty in the eyes of people the world over who consider the death penalty unChristian, immoral or at least uncivilized. Most executions now occur in a handful of countries—China, North Korea, Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan that follow Sharia law, and the United States.

The executions were to begin Monday night but the courts halted them. All the others are in limbo as a baffling assortment of legal and medical questions, some peculiar to one or two of the prisoners and others applying to all of them, make their hasty way through state or federal courts. Governor Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who have pursued the executions with unusual zeal, may yet get to dispatch three or four of the prisoners on their scheduled dates with the gurney.

If the manufacturer of one of the drugs who says the state deceived the company when it obtained the drug under false pretenses wins its case, all the executions could be delayed indefinitely. But that seems unlikely. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, made up almost exclusively of conservative Republican judges, and the elected Arkansas Supreme Court, also controlled by judges prone to uphold judicial and executive death orders, seem apt to rule finally for death.

Jacksonville residents remember two of the killings: Marcel Williams, who kidnapped and strangled Stacey Errickson in 1994, and Ledell Lee, who was convicted in the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, who was struck 36 times with a tire iron that her husband had given her for protection. Lee has always maintained his innocence and his attorneys have raised a fresh question about whether current science can determine whether blood and hair that were evidence of the crime were his and the victim’s or someone else’s. Most of the issues in the other cases revolve around the prisoners’ mental conditions or capacities either now or at the time of their crimes, or the manner in which their deaths are to be carried out.

As we have said, there is a deep ambivalence in the United States about state-sponsored killings, even for the most heinous crimes, and we are nearing the end of its use. A significant majority of Arkansans still favor the death penalty, which accounts for the stout defense of the eight executions by the governor, the attorney general, the state’s entire congressional delegation and an outpouring of tweets and Facebook posts by legislators.

The Arkansas extravaganza may speed the end, or it may give fresh life to what the late Governor Winthrop Rockefeller in 1967 called “a fallible and failing theory of punitive justice.” Rockefeller commuted the death sentences of all 15 men on Death Row and hoped he would be an example for others. Only one governor ever followed him, the Republican chief executive of Illinois, which then ended executions altogether in that state.

While there were recriminations over the state, federal, trial and appellate courts’ actions on the eight cases the past week, we all must understand what it is all about. Executions, whether they were extralegal lynchings or the products of trial and the actual execution of the laws, forced us all, but, in the end now, the judicial system, to face the dilemma of both our religious beliefs and the actual words of our Constitution: for believers whether to obey the eye-for-an-eye justice of Mosaic law or the commandments of the New Testament and for the courts the question of how to interpret the Bill of Rights, which forbade cruel and unusual punishment. What really could be more cruel than taking one’s life?

The courts answered that question by not answering it. They have for more than 40 years wrestled instead with the questions of how much pain and suffering in the course of dying is to be allowed before it is considered “cruel” and how much mental and psychological incapacity or damage in a criminal should be considered the limit before he is considered unfit or ineligible to die in the public’s name?

We don’t think the courts will answer those questions with any finality this week or by the summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court could narrow the latitude in a way that could save one of the inmates. But probably not. What we would wish for all those who rage on either side of these questions, from the politicians and judges to the rest of us, is a little solemnity and for those so inclined perhaps some prayer or reflection. — Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY >> Airmen finishing mission

Two C-130Js and 25 airmen will return to Little Rock Air Force Base on Thursday, 17 days after they left on a relief mission to flood-ravaged Peru, according to Cheri Dragos-Pritchard, chief of media operations for the 19th Airlift Wing.

Two days after Peru requested help, the planes and airmen were on the ground, loading food and relief supplies and transporting it to areas cutoff from help, she said.

“The goal is to assist the Peruvians in recovering from this natural disaster as well as re-establish normalcy to their lives and ease any suffering caused by this natural act,” according to Dragos-Pritchard.

“Our teams here at Little Rock Air Force Base stand ready and able to take on and transport people and/or relief supplies whenever called upon,” she said.

The planes and airmen are from the air base’s 41st and 61st Airlift Squadrons.

As well as combat support in Afghanistan and Iraq, Dragos-Pritchett said the base has a long history of supporting and executing humanitarian missions in the U.S. and abroad, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and in Haiti, both earthquake and hurricane relief.

TOP STORY >> Cotton, Hill grilled at town hall in LR

Leader senior staff writer

The tone was sometimes confrontational and occasionally accusatory Monday afternoon as Sen. Tom Cotton and Second District Rep. French Hill, both Republicans, took submitted questions from a town hall crowd of about 900 constituents.

About three rows front and center and two front rows stage right at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Little Rock were filled mostly by supporters of President Trump, Cotton and Hill, with others scattered amongst the crowd of constituents opposed to many of the actions taken and being taken by Trump and a Republican Congress.

Despite being called out by many audience speakers, neither lawmaker seemed to lose his composure. Two audience members argued over the top of the seated audience before the protester took himself out of the room rather than let it escalate.

A Cotton staffer said the meeting was smaller and less angry than an earlier town hall meeting in Springdale.

Another Cotton staffer estimated the capacity of the two banquet roomsat 700 to 800, but the folding wall on a third room was opened and chairs brought in for 100 to 150 more people.

The meeting, slated to run from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. extended until nearly 3:30 p.m.

Moderator Rex Nelson called on about 20 questioners. One from Jacksonville and one from Sherwood were among the last.

Bern Bradley of Jacksonville asked the lawmakers about what he called Trump’s promises. “He promised the American people that whatever replaced Obamacare would be better, easier and cheaper and would cover everyone,” he said.

Bradley said he underwent heart surgeries as a young child and until Obamacare took effect, requiring insurance companies to accept those with pre-existing conditions, he was unable to purchase health insurance.

“Will you two commit to us today that you will fulfill that promise and not vote for anything that doesn’t do that?” Bradley asked.

“I think that’s why you see the president being personally so engaged in trying to achieve those goals,” Hill said to a chorus of boos.

“I like Sen. Cotton’s point of slowing the process down,” Hill added.

Cotton is among lawmakers who didn’t support the Republican health-care bill considered by the House. “I’d rather get it right than get it fast,” he has said.

Elton Tevebaugh of Sher-wood, who came looking for assurances that Congress would forgive or help alleviate the hardship on those with student loans, left unsatisfied.

“I’m a full-time student at UALR, and I’ve incurred about $45,000 to $50,000 in student-loan debt. What would you be able to do to influence either forgiving the loan” or finding a more suitable solution? he asked.

Instead of the hoped-for promise of help, Hill told him that he and others should have been more diligent in seeking information about federal student loan programs and alternatives.

“When everybody focuses on buying higher education services, they need to focus on what a serious undertaking that is, like you are buying your first house,” Hill said.

“Be careful in working with financial-aid officers and various colleges and community colleges and make sure you can afford to pay back the loan if you are doing it on a limited income,” Hill said.

He said when the federal government took over student loans, they skyrocketed to more than $1 trillion, exceeding all outstanding credit card debt.

“There are a lot of programs out there where students can have their student loans repaid if they perform community service or go to grad school in certain fields. Many companies repay those loans. I think your state legislators should adequately fund higher education and not put all the burden on students,” Hill said.

“There’s too much emphasis on four-year education,” Cotton said. More students should consider technical college, he said.

The solution, Cotton suggested, was a growing economy.

A woman in the audience asked the senator, “I wonder if you’re going to be as forceful about the Russian hacking situation with Donald Trump as you were with the Benghazi thing.”

Cotton said investigations in both chambers should follow wherever the intelligence leads. “This is the most sensitive thing I’ve seen.”

One man rose to say he was in favor of everything Trump has done.

Another man prefaced his question by stating that Cotton was “bought and paid for” by the right-wing Koch brothers.

At a short press conference that preceded the town hall, Cotton said he favored getting on with the execution of eight death-row inmates scheduled to die by lethal injection within days. Currently there are temporary injunctions.

“They’re brutal murders,” Cotton said. “I hope the government can proceed with the sentences. Clearly they are constitutional and appropriate.”

Regarding the missile attack on a Syrian airfield following a chemical gas attack blamed on dictator Bashar al-Assad, Cotton said, “I think (Trump) did the right thing. We’ll employ our power to protect our interest. There’s no further road to kick the can down,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Appeals filed for Lee and Williams

Leader executive editor

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Herbert Wright denied a motion for new DNA testing for a death row inmate awaiting execution for the murder of a Jacksonville woman in 1993.

Ledell Lee, 51, formerly of Jacksonville, who made an appearance in Wright’s court Tuesday, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 7 p.m. Thursday.

His lawyers say Lee was wrongly convicted with inconclusive DNA evidence and did not have proper legal representation in the beating death of Debra Reese, 26, who was struck 36 times with a tire tool in her home in the Sunnyside Addition.

Marcel Wayne Williams, 46, was denied a hearing Tuesday to stop his execution. He was convicted in 1994 of kidnapping a woman in Jacksonville and later killing her in Little Rock.

Williams’ attorneys had filed a brief in his behalf, saying he is diabetic, overweight and has sleep apnea. “This condition poses particular risks with the administration of the lethal-injection protocol,” his attorneys said Tuesday. “Mr. Williams will either suffer brain damage from a sub-lethal execution attempt or will die by suffocation. This is a risk that was previously unknown to Mr. Williams.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson set execution dates by lethal injection for eight men in the latter half of April. That number has dropped to five as the death row inmates convince appeals court to stay their executions, the first for Arkansas in more than a decade.

District and federal courts have challenged the mass executions as cruel and unusual punishment, and even the drug manufacturers claim they were acquired under false pretenses and should not be used in executions.

The state Supreme Court earlier halted the executions of two men considered mentally challenged — Don Davis and Bruce Ward — but several others may proceed after Monday’s ruling by the Eighth U.S. Court of Appeals finding the other executions did not violate the killers’ constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

Hutchinson wanted to carry out the executions before the end of the month, when the lethal drugs are would expire.

Lee’s 1994 trial resulted in mistrial when it was discovered that a relative of his was on the jury. In 1995, the jury deliberated two hours before agreeing to the death sentence.

Reese was killed with a tire tool her husband had given her for her protection while he was driving a truck out of town.

Lee, who had just been paroled after serving time for burglary, was arrested an hour after the murder when witnesses reported seeing him walking down the street. Lee, who went on a crime spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was also convicted of raping two Jacksonville women and was tried for the murder of Christine Lewis, the daughter of the late Alderman Robert Lewis.

Lee was also suspected of killing a Jacksonville prostitute and dumping her body in a shed near the railroad tracks.

Lewis, 22, was abducted from her Sunnyside home in November 1989 as her 3-year-old child watched.

She was raped and strangled and her body dumped in the closet of an abandoned home.

The jury could not agree on a verdict in that trial, but prosecutors decided not to retry him when he received the death sentence in the Reese case and was convicted for raping two women. DNA evidence tied Lee to the murders and rapes.

The ACLU disputes that in its appeal.

Williams was found guilty in the capital murder, kidnapping, rape and aggravated robbery of Stacey Errickson, 22, who was married to an airman at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The victim had stopped at the Jacksonville Shellstop for gas around 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 20, 1994.

Williams approached Errickson’s vehicle, pulled a gun and had her move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s side.

He drove the vehicle away from the gas station, taking the victim to several ATMs, where she withdrew $360 in 18 transactions that were recorded on security cameras.

The last transaction was made at 7:37 p.m. Her body was found in a shallow grave on Dec. 5 in North Little Rock.

Errickson died from strangulation. Her neck and face were deeply bruised, and her hands were tied behind her back. Williams was tried in Pulaski County Circuit Court, and appealed the convictions to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the jury’s death sentence in 1999.