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Arkansas Plans to Execute Man Who Killed Family

March 16, 1989

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the execution of mass murderer R. Gene Simmons, who had scorned appeals of his death warrant, after a fellow inmate asked the high court to intervene.

Simmons was to be executed at 7 a.m. Thursday for killing 14 members of his family at Christmastime 1987. Simmons, convicted last month, waived his appeals and would have been the first prisoner executed by Arkansas in 25 years.

The other death row inmate, Jonas Whitmore, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to stop Simmons’ execution. Whitmore, concerned about the effect that Simmons’ execution could have on his own case, contended that the U.S. Constitution mandates an appeal in capital cases.

Whitmore filed the petition with Justice Harry Blackmun, who referred the petition to the entire court, which stayed the execution pending Whitmore’s filing of a petition asking the court to review the Simmons case.

Should the court refuse to hear the case, ″this stay terminates automatically,″ the unsigned opinion said.

Simmons and Whitmore were not available for comment.

When prison officials told Simmons that his execution would not be carried out as planned, according to prison spokesman David White, Simmons was eating his requested ″last meal.″

According to White, Simmons’ only reaction was to request if he could finish his dinner - which, at his request, included a well-cooked filet, six rolls, six slices of cheese, two raw sliced onions, two tomatoes, a banana and two 7-Ups.

Judge John Patterson, who presided over the trial and set Simmons’ execution date, refused comment Wednesday night.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton said the ruling ″came as a complete shock to me and I don’t understand it.″

Then, referring to a death sentence in another case against Simmons for two murders in Russelville, Ark., the governor said, ″I’ll move now to set the other execution date.″

Whitmore’s lawyer, Arthur Allen, said he was relieved by the court’s ruling. ″Now we have adequate time to address some important constitutional issues,″ he said. ″It’s obvious the court realized an important issue was to be addressed here, otherwise they wouldn’t have issued the stay.″

Whitmore’s petition contends the federal Constitution requires an appellate court to review a Simmons’ conviction to keep the death penalty from being imposed arbitrarily. The Supreme Court of Arkansas on Monday rejected Whitmore’s petition by saying he lacked legal standing to address Simmons’ rights.

The Arkansas Democrat, a Little Rock newspaper, published a letter Wednesday from Simmons in which he called Arkansas’ death penalty ineffective.

″One of the things I wanted to say in court (which would have answered one of your questions) is that Arkansas does not have a meaningful death penalty, it is a facade,″ Simmons wrote in response to questions contained in a note given to him after a March 9 federal court hearing.

In an earlier case involving Simmons, the Arkansas Supreme Court said the U.S. Constitution does not require an automatic appeal. The court said there must be an appellate review of whether a prisoner sentenced to death is competent to waive his appeals. On Friday, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that Simmons was competent when he waived his appeal last month.

Simmons was arrested on Dec. 28, 1987, in Russellville after a shooting rampage that left two people dead. When police went to his rural home near Dover, they found the 14 bodies of family members. Simmons was convicted last year of murdering the two Russellville residents and sentenced to die. That execution was stayed, but that stay was lifted last week.

Whitmore was convicted in the 1986 robbery-murder of former Montgomery County clerk Essie May Black, 62.

Simmons’ execution would be the 107th carried out since the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing states to resume use of the death penalty.

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