Friday, February 23, 2024

Jason McGehee has Death Sentence Commuted to Life in Prison

Jason McGehee, Arkansas

October 10, 2017

Jason McGeheeJason Ferrell McGehee was scheduled to be executed on Thursday, April 27, 2017, at the Cummins Unit near Varner, Arkansas.  His execution was stayed.  In October 2017, Jason’s sentence was commuted to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.  Forty-one-year-old Jason is convicted of the brutal murder of 15-year-old John Melbourne, Jr., on August 19, 1996, in Omaha, Arkansas.  Jason spent 19 years of his life on Arkansas’ death row.

Jason allegedly had a difficult and violent childhood.  As a child, he was forced to watch his father kill two of his pets.  He also watched his step-father beat another pet, which died from its injuries.  Additionally, his mother would force Jason to sleep outside for days, denying him access to a bathroom or food.

By August 19, 1996, at the age of 21, Jason McGehee lived in a house in Harrison, Arkansas, with several other males.  The group made money by cashing stolen and forged checks.  On that day, Jason sent the youngest member of the group, 15-year-old John Melbourne, Jr., to cash a stolen check at a local shoe store.

When John attempted to cash the check, the clerk told him that the check was filled out incorrectly.  When John returned later that day with the check filled out correctly, he was able to cash it.  However, the store’s owner was suspicious of John and his behavior, calling the bank to verify the authenticity of the check.  As a result, the owner learned that the check was stolen and reported it to the police.

Police quickly found John and arrested him.  John cooperated with the police, leading them to the home where McGehee and the rest of the group lived.  There, police discovered several stolen checks, along with other stolen items.  

After the police left, the group was upset at John for “snitching” to the police.  John eventually returned to the home.  McGehee questioned John as to what happened that afternoon.  John denied telling the police anything.  Another member of the group, Christopher Epps, attacked John.  McGehee and a third man, Benjamin McFarland, joined Epps in beating John for over an hour.  Candace Campbell also lived at the house.  She witnessed and participated in the beating of John.  

McGehee went to his neighbor’s home and convicted Robert Diemert to drive them all to Utah.  Along the way, they stopped at McGehee’s uncle’s house in Omaha, Arkansas.  John, weakened, bruised, and swollen, also went with them.  During the drive, Campbell and Diemert heard one of the men ask John how it felt to know that he was going to die.

After arriving in Omaha, McGehee, McFarland, and Epps, beat John for another hour.   Campbell testified that McGehee did most of the beating.  After telling Campbell and Diemert to wait in the vehicle, the three men took a naked John into the woods and took turns strangling him to death.  When they returned from the woods laughing, McGehee told Diemert that John was fine.  Later, McFarland told Campbell what happened.  

Over two weeks later, McGehee, McFarland, and Campbell were arrested in Utah.  Campbell told police about the murder, including where they could find the body of John.  

McGehee, the ringleader, was convicted of capital murder and kidnapping, and sentenced to death.  McFarland and Epps were also convicted of the same crimes and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Campbell and Demerit were each convicted of battery and kidnapping.  They were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

This was not the first execution date for Jason McGehee.  His previous executions were stayed for varying reasons.  In October 2017, Jason’s sentence was commuted to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.  In announcing the computation, Governor Hutchinson acknowledged the discrepancy in the sentences for the crime. 

Please pray for peace and healing for the family of John Melbourne.  Please pray for strength for the family of Jason McGehee. Pray that Jason may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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