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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas will reach the end of an aggressive execution schedule Thursday as it prepares for a fourth lethal injection in eight days 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. Among the claims Williams' lawyers made Thursday was that a double execution this week was flawed and raised concerns that their client could suffer an exceptionally painful death.
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 short 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.
During Monday's first execution, 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." A federal judge allowed the second execution, of Marcel Williams, to proceed, saying there was "no support for a claim and an allegation that the execution appeared to be torturous and inhumane."
Williams' lawyers claim he suffers from sickle cell trait, lupus and brain damage, and that the combined maladies could subject him to an exceptionally painful execution in violation of the U.S. Constitution. His lawyers say that while other courts have upheld Arkansas' execution protocol, the state's "one size fits all" approach could leave him in pain after a paralytic agent renders him unable to move.
"After the state injects Mr. Williams with vecuronium bromide ... most or all of the manifestations of his extreme pain and suffering will not be discernible to witnesses," they wrote to the court.
Other appeals to the state Supreme Court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concerned whether Williams was intellectually disabled and, therefore, ineligible to be executed.
Lawyers for the state said in a court filing that while a mental evaluation had once showed Williams' IQ at "low average," part of that could be attributed to his not cooperating with the doctors who tested him. They told the 8th Circuit that a previous team of Williams' lawyers "unequivocally abandoned a mental retardation claim after the results of the testing showed ... Williams was not intellectually disabled."
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 and still found a new stash.
State officials have declared the string of executions a success, using terms such as "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.
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 less than three weeks into a life prison term for killing 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, then drove 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.
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