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Arkansas Gov. Spares Inmate’s Life

February 5, 1999

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Gov. Mike Huckabee on Friday spared the life of a death row inmate set to die Feb. 16 after a juror who voted for execution pleaded for mercy because his conscience was bothering him.

Huckabee commuted the death sentence to life without parole for Bobby Ray Fretwell, 34, who was convicted of robbing and shooting to death an 81-year-old man in 1985.

``The death penalty is irreversible,″ Huckabee said. ``We cannot afford to make a mistake. To carry out the death penalty in this case would be a mistake.″

Gene Stinnett, one of the jurors at Fretwell’s trial, had written a letter to the governor and the state parole board asking that the execution be stopped.

Stinnett, 70, said he was the lone holdout against the death penalty but relented for fear he would be an outcast in the small community where the killing occurred.

``I just kind of broke down. I didn’t have the courage of my conviction,″ Stinnett said in an interview last week. ``It’s driving me nuts.″

Huckabee, who became governor in 1996, has sent six men to their deaths and has never commuted any other death sentences.

Under state law, there is a 30-day public comment period before the commutation becomes final.

Fretwell, who was 20 at the time of the slaying, admitted shooting Sherman Sullins after stealing the man’s truck and robbing him. Fretwell’s wife and another accomplice were convicted of theft, served several years in prison and have been released.

Fretwell begged for mercy last week, but a state appeals board voted 4-2 against clemency. He was scheduled to die by injection.

Another execution is still set for Feb. 16 _ that of Johnie Michael Cox, 42. He was convicted of killing three people, including his step-grandmother, in 1989.

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