There is always talk about what Mohave County can and cannot afford. We have learned over the past two weeks what we can’t afford is sentencing convicted murderers to the death penalty.
Mohave County Attorney Matt Smith withdrew the intent to seek the death penalty in not one, but two cases over that time. Smith was straightforward about why he made those decisions.
“Bottom line is we just realized the complete futility in death penalty cases,” he told The Daily Miner. “I’ve been here 30 years and in that time only one person has been executed.”
Smith pulled the county’s intent in the cases against Darrell Bryant Ketchner and Justin James Rector. Ketchner was convicted in the first-degree murder of Ariel Allison and sentenced to death. An appellate court reversed the murder conviction in 1994, and Ketchner sits in prison on attempted first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated assault convictions as he awaits the retrial.
Rector is accused of kidnapping, raping, and murdering 8-year-old Bella Grogan-Cannella of Bullhead City in September 2014. The case has dragged on since that time and though it had been creeping toward a trial date, Smith believed the $250,000 already spent on Rector’s defense because of the intent to seek the death penalty is part of the “insane” costs of pursuing capital punishment.
Mohave County has reached the goal of sentencing someone to the death penalty eight times since 1976, according to Arizona Department of Corrections. Only one has been carried out.
Daniel Wayne Cook was executed Aug. 8, 2012. He was 51 years old and was sentenced to death for the July 1987 murders of Carlos Cruz-Ramos and Kevin Swaney in Lake Havasu City.
Mohave County currently has five convicts on death row after Graham Henry died of apparent natural causes Feb. 9 while he was awaiting execution for first-degree murder, kidnapping, theft, and robbery. Henry was convicted of murdering Roy Estes in 1986. The five are:
Charles Ellison, 51, sentenced to die for the 1999 strangulation murders of Joseph Boucher, 79, and Lillian Boucher, 73, of Kingman. His accomplice, Richard Finch, was sentenced to life without parole.
Brad Nelson, 44, sentenced to die for the 2006 bludgeoning death of Amber Graff, his 14-year-old niece, in a Kingman hotel room.
Frank Anderson, 68, and Bobby Poyson, 40, for the August 1996 bludgeoning and shooting murders of a Golden Valley family.
Roger Murray, 46, on death row for the May 1991 shotgun slaying of Dean Morrison and Jackie Appelhans of Grasshopper Junction.
His brother and accomplice Robert Murray was also on death row, but died of untreated cancer June 28, 2014 while waiting execution.
Danny Lee Jones, 52, sentenced to die for the March 1992 murders of Bullhead City residents Robert Weaver, Weaver’s 7-year-old daughter Tisha, and Weaver’s grandmother, Katherine Gumina.
DOC reports that since 1937, the average Arizona death row inmate spends 12 years on death row. The average length of stay for the 34 executed inmates since 1992 has been 17.4 years. However, as we see in Murray’s case, that number is rising. Murray has been on death row since 1992, only a few years shy of 30.
Mohave County has plenty of issues it needs to address at home such as roads, water, and an opioid crisis. Smith is not only saving money for the county, but allowing it to tackle some of its pressing problems by not pursuing the death penalty for Ketchner and Rector.
We pray and hope for the families that his decision brings about some sort of closure for them sooner rather than later.