Johnny Depp is taking a stand against the death penalty.
The actor joined hundreds of activists outside the Arkansas state capitol building on Friday. They had gathered to protest Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s decision to execute seven men in 10 days because the state’s execution drugs are expiring.
Depp accompanied Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three, who spent nearly two decades on death row in Arkansas. Accused of the 1993 murder of three eight-year-old boys, Echols was later released when new DNA evidence proved he was not the killer. Depp commented on the case in the HBO documentary Paradise Lost.
Speaking to the crowd from a podium, the Pirates of the Caribbean star referenced Echols’ wrongful imprisonment, saying, “Arkansas almost put an innocent man to death. I don’t believe that possibility should ever happen again,” THV11’s Erika Ferrando reported.
After his speech, Depp spoke with Fox16 News’s Josh Berry about his thoughts on the death row inmates, saying, “As Marilyn Manson once said, they’d be better off listened to, than spoken to.”
Depp arrived at the event with Echols, who recently told NBC News returning to his home state has not been easy. “It takes a lot for me to go back to Arkansas,” he said. “It’s a place that holds nothing but horror and despair for me. This whole situation is horrific and fills me with despair to the point that I wake up at night trying to scream.”
Likening the accelerated rate of executions to “a conveyor belt of death,” Echols has noted that some of the inmates on the list are severely mentally ill. Patrick Cane, the sergeant in charge of Arkansas’s death row in 2007, agreed, saying, “A lot of those guys are mentally ill and there’s no need to execute them. We got them locked up and they’re not going anywhere.”
Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment found that one man awaiting execution this month believes that death row is meant “to prepare him for a special mission as an evangelist.” Another inmate on the list, according to Harvard’s study, hallucinates “bugs, ants and spiders” are trying to get him, while a third is intellectually disabled and suffers from possible brain trauma. A fourth inmate, the report observed, received legal council first by a drunk lawyer, and then by a mentally ill lawyer, both of whom have since lost their licenses to practice law.
Still, 83% of Arkansans said that the alleged deterrence aspect of capital punishment was important to them and 67 percent supported the death penalty, according to a 2014 poll conducted by Opinion Research Associates.
The executions will be the first in Arkansas since 2005.