Jack Greene is guilty of two horrific murders. Jack Greene is also very sick. On Nov. 9, barring a stay, Jack Greene will be killed by the state of Arkansas.
Jack has spent the past quarter of a century on death row, with the vast majority of that time in solitary confinement. He suffers from debilitating somatic delusions. According to DOC officials, his face is nearly always smeared with blood; he stuffs his ears and nose with toilet paper until they bleed profusely; he is often found standing on his head; he will only eat his meals out of his sink, and he often feels the need to contort his body into odd and uncomfortable positions. In 2009, he told an Arkansas judge that his “frontal lobe hurts so bad I have to stick my finger in the corner of my eye.” He believes that both the prison and his attorneys are a part of an elaborate ruse to torture him and destroy his central nervous system. He is utterly incapable of comprehending his death sentence.
A vein of tragic and debilitating mental illness runs through Jack’s family. Their rural North Carolina home had no electricity or running water, and the family could not afford a car. When Jack was 18 months old, his father shot himself in the chest next to Jack as he napped. The family, already on the brink of total financial ruin, moved in with Jack’s maternal grandparents. His grandfather regularly and brutally beat Jack and then sent him away — to the infamous Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center — where he was, again, regularly beaten and sexually abused. When Jack was a teenager, his mother attacked his grandfather with a hammer. A week later, she overdosed on painkillers. An ambulance was called to the house, but Jack’s older brother Tommy sent it away. Their mother died. His older brother Bobby later shot himself in the head.
After his mother’s death, several times a week, Jack would sit vigil at her grave and sob, often for hours at a time. He was never able to forgive his brother Tommy for turning away the ambulance. In 1992, Jack shot and killed Tommy. While on the run after Tommy’s murder, Jack slit the throat of Sidney Burnett, a friend and retired preacher.
Does Jack’s history excuse or forgive these two murders? Of course not. Does it illustrate that Jack should be free? Absolutely not. Does it help us better understand how Jack came to commit these heinous crimes? Yes.
Jack’s life has been one of destitute poverty, horrific familial and institutional violence, and severe illness. The State of Arkansas has the opportunity to rise above this heinous cycle of violence. They have the opportunity to demonstrate some modicum of compassion for a sick man, who has been both the victim and the perpetrator of unimaginable cruelty.
The state set Jack’s Nov. 9 execution date after the Department of Corrections obtained a fresh supply of the highly controversial sedative midazolam, one of three drugs used in the lethal cocktail used to execute inmates in the state. They paid $250 for it. In October, the Arkansas Parole Board recommended, in a unanimous vote, that Jack be put to death. On November 3, one of Jack’s last hopes for a stay of execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson, stated his conclusion that Jack is competent enough to be executed. “I have reviewed all documents, transcripts, and comments from interested mental health professionals as well as the video of the clemency hearing before the Parole Board, which included Jack Greene’s testimony," Governor Hutchinson wrote. “I am satisfied that the Supreme Court’s standards have been met and that he is competent to be executed.”
At its very core, a civilized society is meant to protect its citizens from violence in all of its forms. Killing Jack Greene will do nothing to further protect any of us. When Arkansas executes him on Nov. 9, we will simply have stooped to the lowest possible level. Violence begets violence until someone rises above it.