Life on death row is taking its toll on Scotty Gardner.
From his cell in the Varner Unit, Gardner continues writing me letters in support of the two boys accused of killing Elvia Fragstein. But, his tone has changed.
Initially, Scotty was OK with the fact that he didn’t put up a fight in court. He was OK with receiving the death penalty at the time. His thoughts on this have changed, and now he hopes he can influence Faulkner County residents to not sentence either of the Pine Bluff teens accused in the Fragstein case to death.
The younger of the teens, Robert Smith III, cannot be sentenced to death because he was 16 years old when the alleged offense occurred. A juvenile transfer hearing in his case wrapped up Wednesday. However, no decision has been made as to whether it will stay in adult court or move to the juvenile division yet.
Smith’s older cousin is scheduled to stand trial in late September. Tacori D. Mackrell faces a death sentence if found guilty.
Scotty feels these two are too young to be subjected to the death penalty. In his own case, he now wishes he would have accepted a plea offer from local prosecutors.
The death row inmate met with his attorney in late May. While his former defender, Katherine S. Streett, stopped by to check in on Gardner, he says she also reminded him he had the chance to take an offer from the state. It was Scotty’s decision to face a jury -- a jury that found him guilty of capital murder within 15 minutes and deliberated for about an hour before deciding he would receive the death penalty.
“I told her the worst mistake wasn’t murder, it was making Faulkner County give me the death sentence,” Gardner writes of his recent conversation with his former attorney. “Kate reminded me I could have took a plea. I couldn’t say anything other than ... I wish I would have.”
Facing a Faulkner County jury “ain’t no game or no joke,” Gardner said.
He asks for mercy. Not for him, but for Smith and Mackrell. As before, I find so much hypocrisy behind Scotty’s letters.
Scotty claims the reasoning behind these letters has nothing to do with his case, but to shed light on Smith and Mackrell’s cases. To make a plea with area residents not to sentence the teens to death.
Where was this need for mercy when Scotty strangled Susan “Heather” Stubbs to death in 2016?
Jail is not a great place to be, Scotty said. He also said he has learned life on death row is worse.
“I know while your in jail you think damn, I just need some air — you just want [to] go outside and move around — maybe play ball with your buddies, maybe just look around,” he wrote. “Well, on death row it’s worse. I can’t go out on the yard. I can’t go to the chow hall. I can’t get a job. I can’t do anything but sit in this cell.”
As he listens to the yelling and screaming of other inmates each day, Gardner said he hopes his words will remind others that “killing them isn’t justice.”