LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - With just three days until the first scheduled execution, a rally was held on the Capitol steps to protest the six scheduled executions set to begin on Monday. While the focus has been on the executions for the past weeks, on Friday it shifted to former death row inmate Damien Echols.
Damien Echols, along with actor Johnny Depp and his closest friends, attended the rally as part of the fight against the executions. It was the first time Echols has been back to the state since 2011, when he, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, negotiated an Alford plea. That plea allowed the three to maintain their innocence while admitting prosecutors had enough evidence to convict them.
As he arrived, Echols admitted to our cameraman that he felt that his heart was about beat out of his chest.
"I'll catch it," Depp said, who comforted him as Echols arrived to the rally.
"There's still a lot of fear, there's an incredible amount of fear for me being back in the state and I don't want to feel that," Echols said.
When he first got the invitation to attend the rally in Arkansas, he was hesitant. Echols said he decided to show up when it crossed his mind that if not for the Alford plea, Echols might have been one of the 8 men set to be executed in a 10-day span.
"When I heard about the conveyor belt of death the politicians were trying to set in motion, I knew I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't come back and try to do something," he said.
Surrounded by friends and family, Echols continued to speak to the media and even later standing at the podium, facing great fear and anxiety as a crowd listened.
During his time on death row, Echols spent time with several of the men currently scheduled to be executed. He said Bruce Ward would watch the news, but wasn't watching exactly the news. Ward would focus on the time and temperature. Echols said that's because Ward was convinced the media was sending him "secret messages through time and temp."
Later that day, Ward was granted an emergency stay by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The stay was granted after his attorneys said he was denied access to independent mental health evaluations.
While Echols is strongly against the executions of these men and the death penalty, he said he "very much understands" the pain of the victims' families.
"My heart is with you," Echols said to the families. "I understand what you're going through, but I hope that maybe you can reach within yourselves and find the strength to let logic and reason prevail over the need for vengeance."
During the rally, Depp also spoke to the crowd. Depp said, as far as he heard, that the rate at which Arkansas is hoping to execute these men has never been done before.
"It sounds a little too factory-like for me," Depp said.
After the two spoke and thanked those who attended the rally, they left the state. As traumatic as it may have been for Echols, it was his strength to speak despite his fears that will have a lasting affect on the Natural State.