These gruesome acts took place in the Natural State, and for the most part justice was served. Some would argue, however, that not all of these cases were properly handled or the criminals involved truly got what they truly deserved. Either way, the murders that took place in Arkansas left a mark on the state and made headlines in the news.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life. While we continue to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, please take proper precautions or add them to your bucket list to see at a later date. If you know of a local business that could use some extra support during these times, please nominate them here:
11. Lavinia Burnett: The first woman to be executed by the state of Arkansas, she was arrested along with her husband Crawford for the murder of Jonathan Selby, a wealthy man from Fayetteville who kept large amounts of money in his house. The couple's eldest son John was an accomplice to the murder.
Burnett's teenage daughter Minerva led authorities to find that her parents had planned Selby's murder and her brother John had carried it out. Lavinia and her husband were sentenced to death in October 1845. Their hangings were reportedly well attended. John Burnett was apprehended and hanged a month later in Fayeteville as well.
10. James Waybern Hall: The murderer known as "Big Jim" killed 4 people, including his wife, in Arkansas between 1944 and 1945. Hall was sentenced to death by electrocution in May 1945 and executed on January 4, 1946.
Convicted of murder after a two-day trial in May 1945, Hall was sentenced to death. Escorted to the electric chair on January 4, 1946, he was all smiles, laughing and joking with his guards. "Boys, I'm not afraid," he was reported as saying when guards strapped him in and fastened the electrodes. "I can take it." Noted now for being an obsolete method of execution, death by electrocution is still a legal secondary execution practice in Arkansas.
9. Mark Alan Smith: A resident of Des Plaines, IL, Smith brutally murdered at least seven Illinois women, three women in Germany while serving in the US Army, and also was convicted of the December 3, 1969 murder of Obie Faye Ash in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
This serial killer who made a wrong turn into the Natural State found his way back to Illinois and was sentenced consecutively to a total of 500 years in prison in Illinois in 1971.
8. Paul Ruiz: This spree killer along with his accomplice Earl Van Denton shot Magazine, Arkansas town marshal Marvin Richie and used his patrol car to obstruct and also murder two park rangers, Opal James and David Small.
Two weeks later, the two killers were caught in Portland, Oregon, and were sentenced by the state of Arkansas to die for their crimes The executions were carried out on January 8, 1997 by lethal injection.
7. Ricky Ray Rector: In 1981, Rector shot and killed Arthur Criswell at a Conway, Arkansas restaurant. At first he agreed to surrender to authorities, but then instead shot Robert Martin, the police officer who had negotiated his surrender, in the back.
Rector then shot himself in the head in a suicide attempt. The attempt effectively resulted in a lobotomy. Rector survived the surgery and was put on trial, his defense arguing that Rector was intellectually impaired and not competent to stand trial. However, after hearing conflicting testimony, Rector was ruled competent to stand trial. Rector was convicted on both counts and sentenced to death. Despite Rector's mental state, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton made a point of returning to Arkansas to oversee Rector's January 24, 1992 execution during the 1992 U.S. Presidential campaign.
6. Raphel Cherry: A former NFL defensive back for the Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions, this Little Rock native played college football at the University of Hawaii. In 1999, Cherry was convicted in an Arkansas court of first degree murder in the death of his wife.
Cherry was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, but upon appeal of his conviction, his sentenced was reduced to 30 years. Cherry's estimated release date is January 9, 2020.
5. Curtis Vance: On November 26, 2008, police in Little Rock, Arkansas arrested Curtis Lavelle Vance for the murder of Little Rock television news anchor Anne Pressly. The popular TV reporter died from injuries resulting from a break-in a month prior to Vance's arrest.
On November 11, 2009, Vance was convicted of capital murder, residential burglary, rape, and theft of property. Vance was reportedly a fan of Pressly, and was a frequent viewer of her morning news show. The following day, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
4. Christina Riggs: This Sherwood, Arkansas nurse was convicted of the November 4, 1997 murder of her two young children, Justin and Shelby Riggs. The murder plan involved giving the children undiluted potassium chloride just after giving them amitriptyline to sedate them. However, the potassium chloride was not diluted properly and it burned her son's veins, causing Justin terrible pain but not death. Riggs eventually smothered him as well as her daughter Shelby, without injecting her, after seeing the pain that the drug caused Justin.
After her children were dead, Riggs unsuccessfully attempted suicide. Riggs' defense said she was suffering from depression and apparently did not want to have her children split up after her envisioned suicide. Riggs requested the death penalty and her wish was fulfilled on April 30, 2000. This date marked the first woman executed in Arkansas since 1845.
3. Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson: Golden and Johnson were school-aged boys on March 24, 1998, when they committed a massacre at Westside Middle School that killed a total of five people: four students and a teacher. Ten other people, nine students and one teacher, were injured. The boys, both having a history of violence, conspired the attack on their school together. Golden and Johnson attempted to flee the scene, but police captured them. The boys evidently planned to run away after the ambush as they had food, sleeping bags, and survival gear in an escape van.
The two youths were among the youngest people ever charged with murder in American history. The Jonesboro prosecutor later stated that were it not for their ages, he would have sought a death sentence for the pair. In August 1998, both boys were sentenced to confinement until they reached the age of 21, which is the maximum sentence available under Arkansas law. Johnson was released on his 21st birthday, August 11, 2005, having spent seven years in prison. Golden was released on May 25, 2007, also his 21st birthday, after spending nine years in prison. Johnson has since faced run-ins with Arkansas law subsequent to his release and is currently serving a four-year federal sentence on weapon and drug charges.
2. Ronald Gene Simmons: Likely Arkansas's most infamous mass murderer, Simmons killed 16 people over a week-long period in December 1987. The first fourteen victims were members of his family, including a daughter he had sexually abused and the child he had fathered with her. He also wounded four others.
Simmons was charged with 16 counts of murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He refused to appeal his death sentence. On June 25, 1990, Simmons died by the method he had chosen, lethal injection. None of his relatives would claim the body, and he was buried in a pauper's grave.
1. The West Memphis Three: Arkansas's most controversial murder case involves three men who were tried and convicted as teenagers in 1994 of the 1993 murders of three eight-year old boys (Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers) in West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the trial, the prosecution asserted that the children were killed as part of a Satanic ritual.
Following a successful decision in 2010 by the Arkansas Supreme Court regarding newly produced DNA evidence, the West Memphis Three negotiated a plea bargain with prosecutors. On August 19, 2011, they entered Alford pleas, which allow them to assert their innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict them. Judge David Laser accepted the pleas and sentenced the three to time served. They were released with ten-year suspended sentences, having served 18 years and 78 days in prison. The decision remains controversial as the families of the three victims are divided in their opinions as to the guilt or innocence of the West Memphis Three.
Whether you agree or disagree with the amount of justice served in the courts’ decisions, there’s no doubt that these terrible murders or even the punishments served by the perpetrators will be erased from the minds of Natural State natives anytime soon.