Arkansas prepares to conclude aggressive execution schedule

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas will reach the end of an aggressive execution schedule Thursday as it prepares for a fourth lethal injection in a week after initially planning twice as many over an 11-day period.

Kenneth Williams, 38, is set to die for killing a former deputy warden following an escape. Each of several stay requests has been rejected or overturned, and it will take a court order to prevent his execution at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court has denied all requests for stays of execution from Inmate Kenneth Williams,” Judd Deere, a spokesman for Arkansas’ attorney general, said in an email after the justices ruled in a case Wednesday.

With one of its lethal injection drugs set to expire at the end of April, Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over the final two weeks of April. That would have been the most in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

If Williams is put to death in the Cummins Unit prison at Varner, the state would have carried out four since last Thursday, including a double execution Monday — the nation’s first since 2000. Courts issued stays for four of the inmates.

Arkansas’ supply of midazolam, normally a surgical sedative, expires on Sunday. The Arkansas Department of Correction has said it has no new source for the drug — though it has made similar remarks previously yet still found a new stash.

State officials have declared the string of executions a success, using terms like “closure” for the victims’ families. The inmates have died within 20 minutes of their executions beginning, a contrast from midazolam-related executions in other states that took anywhere from 43 minutes to two hours. The inmates’ lawyers have said there are still flaws, and that there is no certainty that the inmates aren’t suffering while they die.

In an emergency hearing by telephone, held after the first of Monday’s executions, Jeff Rosenzweig, a lawyer for death row inmates, told a federal judge that Jack Jones Jr.’s mouth moved several times when he should have been unconscious. Jones’ spiritual adviser described it as “a sort of gurgling.” An observer from the state attorney general’s office said it was “snoring; deep, deep sleep.”

One minute after the conference call ended, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker allowed the second execution, of Marcel Williams, to proceed.

“Based upon what the court has learned from the eyewitnesses in regard to the execution, the court finds no support for a claim and an allegation that the execution appeared to be torturous and inhumane,” Baker said in a transcript of the hearing released on Wednesday.

Kenneth Williams was sentenced to death for killing Cecil Boren after escaping from the Cummins Unit prison in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop. He left the prison — where the execution chamber is located in another part of the facility — less than three weeks into a life prison term for killing the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd in 1998. At the conclusion of that trial, he had taunted the young woman’s family by turning to them after the sentence was announced and saying “You thought I was going to die, didn’t you?”

After jumping from the barrel, he sneaked along a tree line until reaching Boren’s house. He killed Boren, stole guns and Boren’s truck and then drove away to Missouri. There, he crashed into a water-delivery truck, killing the driver. While in prison, he confessed to killing another person in 1998.

At the time of Boren’s death, investigators said it did not appear Boren was targeted because of his former employment by the Arkansas Department of Correction.

On Wednesday, a top official with the European Union — which opposes capital punishment — urged Gov. Asa Hutchinson to cancel the Thursday execution. EU Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan said the letter was “an urgent humanitarian appeal” on Williams’ behalf.

“The EU recognizes the serious nature of the crimes involved, and wishes to express its sincere sympathies to the surviving families and friends of the victims,” the letter said. “However, the European Union does not believe that their loss will be mitigated by the death of Mr. Williams.”