Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TOP STORY >>Governor waits to hear killer’s plea

Leader staff writer

Gov. Mike Beebe has not granted clemency to a Furlow man who killed his family 11 years ago, but neither has he denied it.

The clemency petition from Heath Stocks, who killed his mother, father and younger sister was not among the 31 requests the governor denied Friday and it was not included in the 42 petitions the governor took no action on, which means those petitions may be refiled again immediately.

Stacy Stark, who is deputy spokesperson for the governor, said this week that the governor received Stocks’ petition Jan. 23 and by state law he has 240 days, until Sept. 19, to respond. Whether any significance should be attached to the governor not acting yet on Stocks’ petition, Stark said she could not say.

Stocks, 31, is asking for his life sentence to be commuted to a sentence of years so that he may someday be eligible for parole. He is incarcerated at the Tucker Maximum Security Unit near Pine Bluff.

The parole board said Stocks’ petition was without merit when it was sent it to the governor. Rhonda Sharp, a spokesperson for the parole board, said the board has no authority to deny clemency, only to make recommendations to the governor, who has sole authority in that area.

Stocks’ appeal is his second since he pleaded guilty to the January 1997 murders of Joe, Barbara and Heather Stocks and was sentenced without a trial to life without the possibility of parole. But he testified later during the victim impact hearing for convicted rapist Charles A. “Jack” Walls III of Lonoke that he was under the influence of Walls and killed his parents because Walls told him to.

Stocks told Judge Lance Hanshaw that he loved Walls like a father and that he killed his family to protect Walls who had sexually abused him since he was 10 years old. Just before he killed his family, his mother came home unexpectedly and found Walls in his bed. Stocks said he told his mother about their relationship and then told Walls what he had done.

Walls had always told his “boys” that if they had a problem, they should kill it, he said.

“Jack told me to take care of the problem,” Stocks told the judge.

Walls, a Boy Scout leader who pleaded guilty to raping five boys under 14 years of age and no contest to raping Stocks, was sentenced to life plus 90 years. Walls is held at the East Arkansas Regional Unit at Brickeys in Lee County.

Whether Stocks’ claim that Walls told him to kill his family is true has not been proven, because the sheriff’s department did not investigate it. Stocks testified during the victim-impact hearing that his public defender told him to keep his relationship with Walls “under his hat.” His maternal grandmother testified that she had learned about Stocks’ relationship with Walls and assumed it would come out during the trial. But there was no trial.

The investigation into Walls’ crimes, headed by special prosecutor Betty Dickey, revealed that he likely had more than 60 victims. The courtroom was full of them during the victim-impact hearing, though most did not testify. Those who did testify told how Walls would take them camping, get them drunk, give them pornography and molest them.

His victims talked about his arsenal of weapons, the training he gave them as hit men and about his plan to kill a Carlisle man and his son who tried to tell the world about his perversions. They said they knew those weapons could easily be turned on them.

Six months after the death of Joe, Barbara and Heather Stocks, Wade Knox, Walls’ nephew and next door neighbor, held a gun to his head and forced him tell his parents how he had abused him since he was 10 years old.

Knox, who suffered from mental illness reportedly linked to the abuse, later killed himself. The Wade Knox Advocacy Center in Lonoke, where suspected victims of child abuse are interviewed, is named in his honor.

Beebe is considering pardoning eight convicted felons, which means their criminal records will be wiped clean.

The eight applicants intended for pardons have completed all jail time, fulfilled all parole and probationary requirements and paid all fines related to their sentences.

There is a 30-day waiting period for public feedback on the pardons before final action is taken.

Included in the list are Chris Hunt of Cabot, who was convicted in 1983 and 1990 on charges of burglary, theft by deception and possession of a controlled substance.