Arkansas executes 4th inmate in 8 days, reports of execution ‘horrifying’

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days, ending a frantic schedule as the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expires at the end of April.

Kenneth Williams, 38, was initially sentenced to life in prison for the 1998 killing of Dominique Hurd, a university cheerleader. He was later convicted of capital murder after he escaped from prison in 1999 and killed Cecil Boren.

Boren’s daughter, Jodie Efird, watched Thursday night’s execution from the death chamber in Arkansas’ Cummins Unit prison. She said Williams’ death may not bring closure to her family, but it helps a little.

“Every time we drive down this road, he’s not here anymore,” she said of Williams.

Williams expressed remorse in his final words.

“I was more than wrong. The crime I perpetrated against you all was senseless,” Williams said, according to CNN affiliate KATV-TV in Little Rock.

Williams died by lethal injection at 11:05 p.m. local time. His execution however, has prompted calls for investigations after the inmate lurched and convulsed while strapped to the gurney.

An Associated Press reporter who witnessed Williams’ execution Thursday said that about three minutes into the lethal injection, his body jerked 15 times in quick succession. He lurched violently against the leather chest restraint, then the rate slowed for a final five movements.

One of Williams’ attorneys called the execution “horrifying.” A spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson called it “an involuntary muscular reaction.”

The compressed lethal injection timeline could attract more scrutiny after Williams’ death. Arkansas sought to carry out as many lethal injections as possible before one of its drugs expires Sunday. It executed four prisoners, while four others received court stays.

The American Civil Liberties Union says Arkansas may have subjected a death row inmate to cruel and unusual punishment in its rush to use a lethal injection drug before it expires. The expiration is an issue because a resupply is uncertain as Arkansas and other states struggle with suppliers that don’t want their products used in executions.

Rita Sklar, the executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, has called for an investigation into witness accounts of Williams’ execution to “determine whether the state tortured” him.

Sklar said in a statement Friday that Gov. Asa Hutchinson “ignored the dangers” to beat the Sunday expiration date of the state’s supply of midazolam.

Hutchinson had put a temporary hold on Williams’ execution Thursday evening to allow the US Supreme Court to consider motions for stays of execution. The court denied all the motions.

Executions

On April 20, Ledell Lee became the first of the four Arkansas inmates to be executed as well as the first person in the state in 12 years. He was convicted in 1995 of murdering a woman in her home two years earlier.

Jack Jones and Marcel Williams were then put to death Monday in the first back-to-back executions in the United States since 2000. They had committed murders in the 1990s.

The eight death row inmates initially fought their executions on the grounds that midazolam, the sedative Arkansas uses to render inmates unconscious, does not reliably prevent a painful death and helped contribute to botched executions in other states. The Arkansas Supreme Court denied the claim.

States generally didn’t use midazolam in the past, but they’ve turned to it as drug makers clamped down on the use of other drugs in executions.

Lethal injection traditionally required a three-drug cocktail: The first (sodium thiopental or pentobarbital) put the prisoner to sleep; the second (pancuronium bromide) brought on paralysis; and the final agent (potassium chloride) stopped the heart.

But manufacturers and European countries started withholding sodium thiopental and pentobarbital, saying they didn’t want them used in executions. Arkansas and other states turned to midazolam as an alternative.

It’s unclear whether Arkansas will receive fresh supplies of midazolam after its current batch expires. One manufacturer, West-Ward Pharmaceuticals, filed a brief in support of the eight inmates this month, saying it tries to ensure its medication isn’t used in executions.

One of the media witnesses to Thursday night’s execution, Little Rock TV anchor Donna Terrell, told CNN affiliate KARK-TV that after the midazolam was injected, Kenneth Williams’ chest started going up and down rapidly.

It continued for several minutes, Terrell said, from 10:55 to 10:59 p.m., at which point it appeared he stopped breathing, or it was no longer noticeable.

Even though the microphone was turned off, Terrell said, witnesses could still hear heavy breathing.

But there was no expression on Williams’ face. It didn’t appear as if he was in pain, she said.

The executions have drawn international outcry.

“While the rest of the country and the world moves away from the death penalty, Arkansas has shown just how committed it is to running in the wrong direction,” said James Clark, a senior campaigner at Amnesty International USA.

“While it is too late for Kenneth Williams, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Ledell Lee, it is not too late to commute the sentences of all of those remaining on death row.”