The critical time anyone observed Julie Heath alive was Oct. 3, 1993, as soon as the 18-year-old collection out come visit her boyfriend in hot Springs, Arkansas.

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A week later, a hunter found Heath’s body, much less than eight mile from where her broken-down vehicle was found. She wore a black color shirt, socks and underwear, however they to be inside-out. Her black jeans were partly unzipped. Her neck was slashed.

Police later on arrested Eric Randall Nance because that Heath’s murder. Investigators claimed he picked her up close to her vehicle, prior to DNA proof proved he raped and also killed her. In 1994, he to be handed the fatality penalty. At the time, 80 percent of americans nationwide favored the death penalty, follow to a Gallup poll. Yet the only reason Belinda Crites needs to support the fatality penalty is “what Eric Nance did to my cousin.”

“She wasn’t just my cousin, she to be my ideal friend,” Crites said the NewsHour. “He tore my whole family apart.”

He tore my entirety family apart.

Nance’s execution in 2005 significant the critical time Arkansas put a sinner to death. This week, Arkansas enforcement Ledell Lee, the very first of eight guys the state had originally planned to placed to fatality in the 11 days after Easter Sunday. No state has executed for this reason many people so quickly because 1976 as soon as the can be fried Court reinstated resources punishment, said Robert Dunham v the death Penalty details Center.

The conflict in Arkansas is the recent to politicize the death penalty — however for families of the victims and the prisoners, it additionally resurfaces the complicated issues that closure and also the long-reaching result of these executions on their communities.

Arkansas justification its person that is abnormal swift schedule by speak the state’s supply of lethal injection medicine were about to expire, and pharmaceutical companies have refused come replenish stocks. A collection of judicial rulings clogged the booked executions that the first four men: Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson. The three men who stay are, at the moment, still booked to die prior to the month is out.

The idea of closure is powerful. It’s something Arkansas invoked in an April 15 movement that tried to fight a momentary restraining order that McKesson clinical Surgical, Inc., has actually used come block the use of its drug vecuronium bromide in state executions. (The medicine is typically used as basic anesthesia come relax muscles before surgery).

“The friends and also family that those killed or injured by Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Bruce Ward, Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Don Davis, and also Terrick Nooner have waited years to get some closure for your pain,” that read.

But even when executions take it place, a surviving family’s pain doesn’t disappear v the perpetrator’s pulse.


It’s been an ext than 2 decades since Heath’s death. Yet Belinda Crites, a 41-year-old caregiver who still resides in her hometown of Malvern, Arkansas, finds laughter in she sweet memory of she cousin. A high institution cheerleader, Heath want to be a police officer one day. She functioned two jobs — at Taco Bell and also a blue jean manufacturing facility — and also before she died, she earned enough money come buy a beat-up 1957 black color Mustang. With each paycheck, Julie bought a brand-new part, and she and her father, wilhelm Heath, revived the auto together.

“She ran she fingers through Crites’ hair, lengthy like her dead cousin’s; she held her tight … together if she were “just make the efforts to acquire a piece of Julie back.”

Whenever Crites checked out her cousin’s house, they will do pile into bed together and also watch illustration of your favorite tv sitcom, “Family Matters.” for Christmas, Crites, Heath and both that their mothers dressed in matching outfits — nice jeans, ties or every little thing was the latest fad — and baked cookies. The 2 mothers to be inseparable, working and raising their households together. Crites and her cousin “always said we’d be just like them,” Crites said.

But after Heath’s murder, Crites said her family fell apart. Her mother, aunt and grandmother were every diagnosed with depression and needed medication. As soon as Nancy heather — she aunt and Julie’s mom — hugged Crites, she ran she fingers with Crites’ hair, lengthy like she dead cousin’s; she held her tight, Crites said, as if she to be “just do the efforts to gain a piece of Julie back.”

The family members watched together Nancy heath wasted away. Lock cried and hugged each other on march 31, 1994, when a jury sentenced Nance come death. But after the family members left the courtroom and also got into their cars to drive home, Heath became incoherent. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where medical professionals observed she overnight, Crites said.

Nancy Heath’s psychologist later begged her to at least eat bananas and also watermelon, yet she refuse food. If she left Crites’ house to walk to the store, her family knew to follow her — often, she drove instead in the direction the the cemetery whereby Julie to be buried. Crites’ mother once uncovered Nancy Heath over there overdosed on pills. Crites said her aunt attempted self-destruction at least 4 times prior to she killed herself top top Christmas morning in 1994, 15 months after she daughter’s murder.

“Some people wanted to judge suicide,” Crites said. “But mine aunt — she couldn’t cope. She couldn’t go on. She want to go on for this reason bad. She tried therefore hard.”


In 2015, the FBI reported practically 15,700 homicides nationwide. And a 2007 study argued that because that every homicide victim, six to 10 family members are “indirectly victimized.” That figure excludes the countless friends, colleagues, next-door neighbors or other human being who likewise suffer once a person they understand is murdered. As soon as they grieve, survivors should not only number out how life go on without your loved one in it, however also process the violence behind the person’s death.

Death penalty advocates and politicians, consisting of Arkansas Attorney basic Leslie Rutledge, controversy that as soon as the state executes a human who has committed a damaging crime, the act bring closure come victim’s family. Yet it’s no that simple.

If you ask murder victims’ families, “closure is the F-word,” said Marilyn Armour, that directs the Institute for Restorative Justice and also Restorative conversation at the university of Texas in ~ Austin. She researched homicide survivors for two decades. “They’ll tell girlfriend over and also over and also over again that there’s no such point as closure.”

In 2012, Armour and University of Minnesota researcher note Umbreit interviewed 20 households of crime victim in Texas — a state i beg your pardon regularly offers the fatality penalty — and also 20 more families in Minnesota, which rather offers life without parole. They to be curious about how families in both says coped v the sentences.

The 2012 research concluded family members in Minnesota were able to relocate on sooner; due to the fact that their love ones’ killers were sentenced to life there is no parole, quite than the fatality penalty, they weren’t retraumatized in the many appeals that frequently precede an execution. Armour warns their sample was small. However over the last 2 decades, killing victims’ households have received much better treatment and far more rights, armour said. Rather than listen to the households homicide victims leave behind, society often offers these people and their pain to score politics points in the fatality penalty debate, armor said.

“Murder victims families are actors aside,” armor said. “Nobody is giving survivors voice value.”

What armour sees unfolding in Arkansas is political, she told the NewsHour. She no think it need to be.

Arkansas State Representative Rebecca Petty, on the other hand, has actually made she mission to bring the worry to politics. In 1999, Petty’s 12-year-old daughter, Andria Brewer, to be kidnapped from she younger sister’s date of birth party by her uncle, karl Roberts. The raped and also strangled her, spanning her body with leaves on an old logging road close to Mena, Arkansas.


Andria Nichole Brewer, 12, to be attending she youngest sister’s fourth birthday party when Brewer’s uncle, karl Roberts, abducted her. He climate raped and killed her, hiding she body close to an old logging road close to Mena, Arkansas, around 10 miles from her home. Photograph courtesy that Rebecca Petty

Before the happened, Petty said her family had never experienced crime, so she never gave the death penalty lot thought. “When it wake up to your own child you provided birth to, you teach to walk and talk and 12 years, it is the allude — it provides up her mind for you.”

In June 2000, Roberts waived his ideal to very nice the case in court. He confessed and also was convicted for murdering his niece; he was sentenced to die on Jan. 6, 2004. Petty claimed she and her family prayed and also decided to walk watch Roberts’ execution. However shortly before he was claimed to it is in lethally injected, Roberts said he adjusted his mind and also wanted come appeal after all. Petty left the prison the bitterly cold night in disbelief. Roberts still sit on fatality row, yet his execution continues to be unscheduled.

Since then, Petty entered politics and also has supported for victims’ rights. She secured funding to broaden the evil area attached come the execution chamber on Arkansas’ fatality row. Once she taken into consideration what would an outcome from Arkansas’ original plan to execute eight males in 11 days, Petty said it won’t sell closure, yet “will near chapters for these families.”

“In her life, you have actually chapters,” small said. “This is walk to be a chapter for these households they can close. It’s no going come be an easy chapter. For several of them it could be one of the critical chapters of their life.”

But Judith Elane, a lifelong fatality penalty abolitionist and also former attorney who lives in small Rock, Arkansas, doesn’t watch it that way. The 72-year-old said due to the fact that the death penalty is not used to all homicides, it leaves surviving family members with the impression that the justice device values part victims more than others.

Her principles were put to the check after she brother, Gene Schlatter to be shot and also killed in November 1968 in a Denver bar with 4 witnesses. He was 36. Elane journey from west Canada, whereby she live at the time, come his funeral, whereby she mourned through his three children and also widow. Four years later, in 2009, detectives traced proof to a mrs they believed was guilty the the crime. But witnesses disappeared, adjusted their story or experienced dementia and also couldn’t testify in court. In spite of other evidence, the woman walked away, and also no one to be prosecuted because that the murder.

“The branch likes to say the does this because victims’ families deserve closure,” she said. “Every time i hear that, ns think, ‘you’re no doing it because that me. It didn’t aid me.’”

To manage her grief, Elane joined support groups and also now leads Murder Victims families for Reconciliation in Arkansas. She scoffed at politicians who sell closure through funding punishment. “The governor likes come say that does this since victims’ families deserve closure,” she said. “Every time i hear that, i think, ‘you’re not doing it for me. It didn’t assist me.’”

Six the end of 10 Arkansans favor use of the fatality penalty, according to a recent poll the 550 Arkansas voter from Talk company & Politics and Hendrix College, bolstering Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s contact for expedited execution. Yet nationwide, assistance for the fatality penalty is at its lowest suggest in 4 decades, with fifty percent of U.S. Adults saying states need to not execute your worst criminals, according to Pew research study Center.


When says use funding punishment, the decision has aftermath not only for the murder victims’ families, jurors and also the human being sentenced come die, but likewise for the prison personnel responsible for moving out fatality sentences and the family members of world who sit on fatality row.

Unlike politicians, correctional police officers who work-related on fatality row are additionally “going to go home and live through the psychological after-effects for the rest of their lives and so will certainly their families,” claimed Patrick Crane, who worked on Arkansas’ death row indigenous 2007 to 2008. Turnover is high, he said. And the state’s collection of executions has taken benefit of jail staff that live in landscape farm communities with couple of jobs, where households “still have an old way of thinking and doing and also being.”

“Metaphysically, i think it’s going to it is in a cloud over the state, particularly over the area in which that happens,” Crane said. “Clouds critical a lengthy time under there.”

In Arkansas’ expedited schedule to execute people on fatality row, the voices of victim families and also the victims themselves are lost in sensationalism, Elane said. If politicians and also policymakers care around homicide victims and their families, she stated those voices must be heard. The money saved by issuing life without special amnesty sentences — which tends to have fewer appeals — can improve regulation enforcement and also investigations, she said.

For now, she projects on behalf of killing victims families, bringing fist to their needs immediately following the death of a love one.

“Regardless of how we feel about the death penalty, we all experienced the same suffering and also the same dilemmas,” Elane said.


For 12 years, Nance satellite on “The Row” in the Varner Supermax penitentiary near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, when his attorneys tried come appeal his execution. For years, they said he had the psychological capacity that a third grader, and that the state would be cruel to kill him due to the fact that he walk not completely understand rape and murder were wrong. His instance made it every the method to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the justices decided not to preventive Nance’s life.

Members of the Nance household who testified on his instead of did not return NewsHour’s request for comment.

For his final meal before his Nov. 28, 2005, execution, Nance inquiry for 2 bacon cheeseburgers, French fries, two pints of cacao chip cookie dough ice cream and also two can be ~ of Coca-Cola. More than a decade later, Crites quiet resents that Nance had actually a chance to pick that meal.

“My cousin passed away with tater tots and a Coke on her stomach,” she said.

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Crites and her household drove a van to the prison and were escorted to the warden’s office, wherein they watched the execution room on a small closed-circuit tv set. Top top the screen, Crites saw Nance strapped level on his earlier to a gurney through a white paper pulled as much as his neck. He said nothing.

Prison staff injected Nance v a lethal cocktail. The closed his eyes, continued to be silent, and then died, Crites said.

But the storage of what the did to her cousin — and also how life then changed — tho haunts Crites. She knows Nance’s execution didn’t readjust how things had turned out.

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“When he to be gone, it gave us a relief,” she said. “Did it make points better? ns don’t know. We think of that everyday.”

Crites, the mommy of 3 sons and one daughter, claimed she only recently permitted her 16-year-old daughter to spend the night in ~ a friend’s house and also never permitted her daughter come sit top top the porch that their house without who sitting v her.