Updated: Monday, April 17, 2017 9:09 am EDT
Jason Ferrell McGehee was scheduled to be executed around 9 pm CDT, on Thursday, April 27, 2017, at the Cummins Unit near Varner, Arkansas. His execution has been stayed. Forty-year-old Jason is convicted of the brutal murder of 15-year-old John Melbourne, Jr., on August 19, 1996, in Omaha, Arkansas. Jason has spent the last 19 years of his life on Arkansas’ death row.
Jason was granted a stay of execution by US District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. Judge Marshall granted the stay after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended that Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson grant clemency to Jason. Due to that recommendation, Jason is entitled to a 30-day comment period, which will not expire until after the scheduled execution.
Jason allegedly had a difficult and violent childhood. As a child, he was forced to watch as his father killed two of his pets. He also watched his step-father beat another pet, which died from its injuries. His mother would force Jason to sleep outside for days, denying him access to a bathroom or food.
By August 19, 1996, at the age of 21, Jason McGehee lived in a house in Harrison, Arkansas, with several other males. The group made money by cashing stolen and forged checks. On that day, Jason sent the youngest member of the group, 15-year-old John Melbourne, Jr., to cash a stolen check at a local shoe store.
When John attempted to cash the check, the clerk told him that the check was filled out incorrectly. John returned later that day, with the check filled out correctly and was able to cash the check. The store’s owner was suspicious of John and his behavior, and called the bank to verify the authenticity of the check. The owner learned that the check was stolen and reported it to the police.
Police quickly found John and arrested him. John told police where he had received the check, along with the circumstances. Police went to the home where McGehee and the rest of the group lived. Police discovered several stolen checks, along with other stolen items.
After the police left, the group was upset at John for “snitching” to the police. John eventually returned to the home. McGehee questioned John as to what happened that afternoon. John denied telling the police anything. Another member of the group, Christopher Epps, attacked John and began beating him. McGehee and a third man, Benjamin McFarland, joined Epps in beating John for over an hour. Candace Campbell also lived at the house and witnessed and participated in the beating of John.
McGehee went to his neighbor’s home and convicted Robert Diemert to drive them all to Utah, stopping along the way in Omaha, Arkansas, at McGehee’s uncle’s house. They took a weakened, bruised, and swollen John with them. During the drive, Campbell and Diemert heard one of the men ask John how it felt to know that he was going to die.
After arriving in Omaha, McGehee, McFarland, and Epps, beat John for another hour. Campbell testified that McGehee did most of the beating. After telling Campbell and Diemert to wait in the vehicle, the three men took a naked John into the woods and took turns strangling him to death. When they returned from the woods laughing, McGehee told Diemert that John was fine. McFarland later told Campbell what had happened.
Over two weeks later, McGehee, McFarland, and Campbell were arrested in Utah, Campbell told police about the murder, including where they could find the body of John.
McGehee, the ringleader, was convicted of capital murder and kidnapping, and sentenced to death. McFarland and Epps were also convicted of the same crimes and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Campbell and Demerit were each convicted of battery and kidnapping. They were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Jason McGehee was scheduled to be executed on January 14, 2016. His execution was stayed, along with several others, by a judge with the Pulaski County Circuit Court. The execution was stayed due to legal challenges regarding the execution drugs.
Arkansas had planned to executed eight men over a 10 day period, beginning on Monday, April 17, 2017. Prior to the executions scheduled for that day, numerous appeals were filed in multiple courts, leading to a confusing mess of legal rulings. The first two executions, scheduled for Monday, April 17, 2017, were eventually stayed by the Arkansas Supreme Court. On Thursday, April 20, 2017, Arkansas carried out its first execution, that of Ledell Lee. Ledell’s execution occurred after multiple appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States, including appeals from drug companies who did not want their drugs being used in executions. The Supreme Court eventually rejected all arguments and allowed Ledell’s execution to be carried out shortly before the execution warrant expired. The second execution scheduled for Thursday night, that of Stacey Johnson, was stayed to allow time for additional DNA testing. Two more executions were carried out on Monday, April 24, 2017.
Kenneth Williams is also scheduled to be executed on Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Arkansas.
Please pray for peace and healing for the family of John Melbourne. Please pray for strength for the family of Jason McGehee. Please pray that if Jason is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, evidence will be presented prior to his execution. Please pray that Jason may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.