Fourth Arkansas inmate executed in seven days, attorneys call for review of final execution after convulsions witnessed

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 537 views 

At 11:05 p.m. on Thursday night, Kenneth B. Williams became the fourth Arkansas death-row inmate to die by lethal injection at the hands of the state in the period of seven days. His death brought to an end a 11-day schedule of multiple executions that brought international attention to the Cummins Unit prison in the Arkansas Delta.

Infamous in life for a spate of heinous murders that left a trail of grieving victims and families, Williams apparently “spoke in tongues” only moments before the executioner’s needle was injected into his veins as he “convulsed, shook and gasped” for air only moments before his death.

J.R. Davis, spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, told reporters that justice was finally served with the death of Williams, the last of four men put to death by the Arkansas Department of Corrections since last Thursday (April 20).

“Tonight reinforces the fact that in the last seven days, after decades of waiting … we are finally providing the justice they were promised,” Davis said, as he read off the long list of victims that were murdered by the 38-year Williams and fellow inmates Ledell Lee, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams.

Gov. Hutchinson earlier this year set execution dates two at a time over an 11-day period starting April 17 and ending April 27. However, in separate legal actions, stays of executions were granted for Don Davis, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson and Jason McGehee. Lee was executed Thursday (April 20). Marcel Williams and Jones were executed April 24, marking the first time since 2000 a state executed two inmates in one day.

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.

Before Davis spoke, representatives of Boren’s family gave a brief statement expressing gratitude to Gov. Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and ADC officials, some of whom stood silently by wiping tears from their eyes and comforting more than a dozen family members of the man that Williams killed 18 years ago.

“They were very professional, they took care of our family,” said Jodie Efird, the daughter of Boren who witnessed Williams’ execution. “It’s not closure; (but) we don’t have to endure this anymore,” Efird said with her sister, Holly King, at her side.

Before he died, prison officials said Williams read a statement to the family and his victims, while also announcing himself as a “death-row preacher.”

“I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all were senseless, extremely hurtful, and inexcusable. I humbly beg your forgiveness and pray you find the peace, healing, and closure you all deserve,” Williams read. “I am not the same person I was. I have been transformed. Some things can’t be undone. I seek forgiveness.”

Immediately afterward, according to media witnesses and prison officials, Williams began speaking in tongues shortly before ADC officials began the three-drug protocol that would lead to his death 13 minutes later. In between, his death-bed confession and actual death, the description of Williams’ path to death led to nearly an hour of post-execution questions by reporters gathered at the Delta prison.

In announcing his death, ADC Solomon Graves told the reporters Williams shook for about 10 seconds three minutes into his lethal injection at 10:55 p.m. He said the actual execution began at 10:52 p.m. when the prisoner was injected with midazolam, the controversial sedative that has been at the center of recent court hearings concerning botched executions in Oklahoma and other states.

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.

However, media representatives who witnessed Williams death offered a slightly different version of Williams’ death, specifically the brief period of convulsions. According to Associated Press state editor Kelly Kissel, Williams convulsed and shook 15 to 20 times over a period of 10 to 20 seconds. Afterwards, he continued to gasp and made an audible groaning sound until about 10:59 a.m., the witnesses said.

“Having never seen an execution like this, it looked like something was wrong,” said Fox 16 news anchor Donna Terrell, one of the three media witnesses.

Once the shaking subsided, prison medical personnel administered a so-called consciousness check by examining his eyelids and massaging his chest area. After the ADC officials ascertained that he was unconscious, they began to administer vecuronium bromide to paralyze Williams, followed by a final injection of potassium chloride that stopped his heart and caused death.

Nearly 30 minutes after Williams’ death, Davis downplayed the incident when questioned whether he thought Williams’ shaking and gasping for air needed to be reviewed by the governor’s office to figure out if anything went wrong. He said Williams’ actions amounted to “involuntary muscular reactions” caused by the sedative.

“No one here has stated tonight he was in pain of any sort,” Davis said. “As he does with every execution, I am sure there will be follow-up as to the process, but the governor is confident ADC officials have done what (they) are supposed to do.”

However, early Friday morning, Williams’ attorneys and local American Civil Liberties Union officials were already criticizing the late-night execution, alleging the death-row inmate suffered a painful death.

“The accounts of the execution of Mr. Williams tonight are horrifying. We tried over and over again to get the state to comport with their own protocol to avoid torturing our client to death, and yet reports from the execution witnesses indicate that Mr. Williams suffered during this execution,” said Shawn Nolan, a federal defender and one of the deceased inmate’s attorney.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, criticized Gov. Hutchinson for rushing to execute Williams and seven other inmates before the state’s supply of midazolam expires on Sunday, April 30.

“Midazolam’s well-documented risks and role in numerous botched executions should have given Governor Asa Hutchinson pause. Instead, he ignored the dangers and undermined our state’s moral standing – all to beat the expiration date on a failed drug,” Sklar said.

Nolan added that Hutchinson now needs to investigate Williams death. “What’s important right now is that all the information about tonight’s execution must be meticulously documented and preserved so that we can discover exactly what happened in that execution chamber,” he said. “The courts were wrong for not intervening.”

Earlier Thursday, attorneys for Williams sought several reprieves with state and federal courts asking that the Arkansas Parole Board give Kayla Greenwood, the daughter of victim Michael Greenwood, and Stacey Yaw, the widow, “an opportunity to testify at the Arkansas Parole Board in support of Mr. Williams’s clemency.” The reprieves also asked the Parole Board to review evidence that Williams is intellectually disabled and ineligible for the death penalty.

Just a few minutes prior to his planned 7 p.m. execution, the U.S. Supreme Court asked Gov. Hutchinson and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for time to review Williams’ case. That request came after numerous appeals by Williams’ attorneys were denied by the Pulaski County Circuit Court, the Arkansas Supreme Court, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall, with the Eastern District of Arkansas, said a lack of clemency hearing notice to the Greenwood family did not violate due process rules.

Gov. Hutchinson will hold a media availability with reporters at 11 a.m. Friday at the State Capitol. He is expected to discussed the executions and the upcoming special legislative session.