The European Union’s ambassador to the U.S. has forwarded a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson from the 28-member state alliance asking him to halt the execution of Kenneth Williams on Thursday due to doctors’ finding that the death-row inmate is “intellectually disabled.”
The letter from David O’ Sullivan comes as the State Department of Corrections (ADC) prepares to execute Williams at 7 p.m. Thursday (April 27), the last of eight scheduled executions first announced by Gov. Hutchinson earlier this year that have brought international attention to the state.
Williams’ death sentence follows the executions of Ledell Lee, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams over the past week. O’Sullivan’s letter to the governor points to recent evidence submitted to courts from three doctors that Williams should not be executed because of his diminished intellectual capacity.
“I believe this evidence should be heard and that Mr. Williams should not be executed,” O’ Sullivan noted.
A longtime Irish civil servant, Ambassador O’Sullivan is the EU’s top diplomat to the U.S. He oversees the EU’s bilateral relationship with the U.S. and the direction and work of the union’s political, economic and commercial affairs. In his letter to Hutchinson, O’Sullivan said the EU is opposed to the use of capital punishment under all circumstances and is seeking universal abolition of the death penalty, starting with a global moratorium as a first step.
“We believe that the elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the protection of human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights on a global scale,” O’Sullivan said. “Furthermore, we are convinced that applying the death penalty will have no deterrent effect.”
And while O’Sullivan expresses his sympathies to the surviving families and victims of the crimes committed by Arkansas’ death-row inmates, he said the EU does not believe their loss will be mitigated by Williams’ death.
“This unprecedented pace of carrying out those sentences has been justified by the urge to use some of the execution drugs before their expiry dates. We also note with concern that other drugs used for executions were reportedly acquired by circumventing the policies of the company who sold them. Proceeding with Mr. Williams’ execution would therefore be a very concerning precedent,” O’Sullivan tells Hutchinson.
The EU’s letter is unusual in that it is the first formal rebuke of the state’s execution protocol by an influential European trade group, which as a whole represents the world’s largest economy with $16.47 trillion in gross domestic production in 2016. The letter also comes at the last hour of the state’s execution schedule that first began on April 17, already ending with the stays of death sentences of Dan Davis, Bruce Ward and Stacey Johnson.
In recent interviews with reporters, Hutchinson and Arkansas Economic Development Chief Mike Preston have argued that states with the death penalty have not suffered from application of the death penalty.
“I expect absolutely no economic consequence because when you look at South Carolina, Florida and Texas, those economies have not suffered consequences either from Europe or otherwise, or international scrutiny because of the actions they’ve taken,” Hutchinson told reporters at the State Capitol on April 4.
In a follow-up pen-and-paper gathering with reporters on April 14, Hutchinson reiterated the state was not rushing to execute the eight death-row inmates because of the expiration of the sedative midazolam on April 30. Hutchinson told reporters it was his duty to set a date for the state’s already approved executions, and that those opposed to the death penalty in Europe would still be critical of his decision to execute eight Arkansas inmates even if he spread out the death sentences over several weeks or months.
“They’ve had 343 (executions) in Texas and Europe hasn’t stopped doing business in Texas. In South Carolina, they’ve had scores of executions and BMW from Germany is located there, and Alabama has also had executions while we have had none …, and Mercedes is located there. So, Europe is not going to stop doing business with us,” he said.
Besides its stated opposition to the death penalty, the EU has also restricted the export of anesthetics used in lethal injections since 2014. That has led U.S. states, including Arkansas, to make deals with domestic pharmaceutical companies for a fresh supply of execution drugs.
On April 18, days ahead of the deaths of Jones and Marcel Williams, U.S. drugmaker McKesson filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court to halt the death sentences, claiming ADC Director Wendy Kelley illegally obtained a supply of vecuronium bromide to use in the state’s execution regimen.
As part of the state’s three-drug cocktail, midazolam is first injected by the executioner to render the prisoner unconscious. That is followed by vecuronium bromide to paralyze the inmate, and a final injection of potassium chloride that stops the inmate’s heart and causes death.
An Oklahoma death penalty commission on Wednesday recommended the extension of a one-year moratorium on that state’s three-drug execution protocol, the same one used by Arkansas corrections officials. The 11-member Oklahoma task force is advocating corrections officials there switch to a one-drug execution protocol, something not yet publicly discussed in Arkansas.
As of late Wednesday, all stays for Kenneth Williams had been denied by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Williams asked the court to enter evidence concerning his mental capabilities. The death-row inmate still has pending motions in federal court to halt his execution.
Williams was convicted for the October 1999 murder of Cecil Boren. At the time, Williams was already serving a life sentence without parole for the kidnapping and killing of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd when he escaped from prison, murdered Boren, and stole his truck. While driving that truck, he was involved in an accident in Missouri that killed Michael Greenwood of Springfield, Mo. He later confessed in a newspaper letter to a Pine Bluff newspaper editor of killing local resident Jerrell Jenkins.