A federal judge Wednesday cleared the way for next week’s execution of a convicted murderer here, dismissing charges that a sheriff, who has since become a congressman, beat a confession out of the suspect.
After hearing conflicting testimony Tuesday, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele refused to stay next Wednesday’s scheduled execution of Barry Lee Fairchild, 36, convicted of the 1983 abduction and shooting death of an Air Force nurse.
The hearing Tuesday featured accusations of coerced testimony leveled against U.S. Rep. Tommy F. Robinson (R-Ark.), whose four-year tenure as a tough-talking sheriff generated constant controversy until he was elected to the House in 1984. Robinson, 48, replied that the allegations arose from dirty politics.
Eisele’s ruling, barring a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, also left Gov. Bill Clinton, the Democratic incumbent, holding the fate of Fairchild, who would be the first black executed here since Arkansas reinstated its death penalty 14 years ago. The state NAACP chapter, suspicious that Fairchild’s confession was coerced, is set to deliver to Clinton a protest petition bearing the signatures of more than 1,000 Arkansas blacks.
At Tuesday’s hearing, a former Pulaski County sheriff’s deputy, James Franklin Gibson Jr., said it was “general knowledge” that Robinson and his deputies beat a confession out of Fairchild after the murder.
Robinson, who lost a GOP primary bid for governor on May 29, said the charge was “absolutely false.” Under oath, Robinson accused Sheffield Nelson, a Little Rock businessman who defeated him for the GOP nomination for governor, of instituting an FBI inquiry into civil rights violations during Robinson’s tenure as sheriff and paying Gibson to talk. Nelson has steadfastly denied such charges.
On Wednesday morning, Eisele said: “The court is absolutely convinced that information revealed by Mr. Fairchild in the confessions came from his own thoughts and were not rehearsed or coached.”