Arkansas executed one condemned murderer Monday night and was poised to put a second to death before a federal judge issued an emergency stay.
Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 Central Time Monday night, 14 minutes after the procedure began at the state’s Cummins Unit in southeast Arkansas. There were no apparent complications, and Jones’ chest stopped moving two minutes after officials checked for consciousness.
However, in a last-minute filing, attorneys for inmate Marcel Williams said that it took 45 minutes for prison staff to place an IV into Jones and argued that Williams, who is obese, could face a “torturous death.”
The attorneys claimed Jones showed “continued consciousness” after the midazolam was administered.
Williams was scheduled to be executed at 8:15 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker halted Williams’ execution until 8:30 p.m. or until she issues another order, whichever is later.
Jones was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.
Jones said earlier this month that he was ready for execution. He used a wheelchair and he’d had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes.
The state conducted its first execution last week after a nearly 12-year hiatus. Initially, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of midazolam, one lethal injection drug, expires on April 30.
The first three executions were canceled because of court decisions, then inmate Ledell Lee was executed last week.
Williams’ “morbid obesity makes it likely that either the IV line cannot be placed or that it will be placed in error, thus causing substantial damage (like a collapsed lung),” his attorneys wrote in a court filing asking justices to block the execution.
Both men were served last meals on Monday afternoon, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said. Jones had fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, beef jerky bites, three candy bars, a chocolate milkshake and fruit punch. Williams had fried chicken, banana pudding, nachos, two sodas and potato logs with ketchup, Graves said.
Before Lee’s execution Thursday, Arkansas hadn’t put an inmate to death since 2005. In several of the 31 states where executions are legal, drug shortages have often forced delays as manufacturers prohibit their use in executions. Arkansas believes that secrecy it grants to suppliers can solve that problem, though it still has difficulty obtaining the drugs. Courts have also forced rewrites of Arkansas’ lethal injection protocols, causing further delays. Jones and Williams committed their crimes more than two decades ago.
In recent pleadings before state and federal courts, the inmates said the three drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride could be ineffective because of their poor health.
Jones, 52, lost a leg to diabetes and was on insulin. Williams, 46, weighs 400 pounds, is diabetic and has concerns that the execution team might not be able to find a suitable vein to support an intravenous line.
The poor health of both men, their lawyers claimed, could make it difficult for them to respond during a consciousness check following a megadose of midazolam. The state shouldn’t risk giving them drugs to stop their lungs and hearts if they aren’t unconscious, they have told courts.
In a response filed with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, lawyers for the state said the inmates had filed an “avalanche” of lawsuits to obtain stays. The men’s attorneys countered that the state forced their hands.
“If there was an ‘avalanche’ of litigation, as the state complains, that’s because the state created an avalanche of execution dates,” Julie Vandiver wrote.
The last state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day was Texas, which executed two killers in August 2000. Oklahoma planned a double execution in 2014 but scrapped plans for the second one after the execution of Clayton Lockett went awry.
Arkansas executed four men in an eight-day period in 1960. The only quicker pace included quadruple executions in 1926 and 1930.
Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station in central Arkansas.
Authorities said Williams abducted and raped two other women in the days before he was arrested in Errickson’s death. Williams admitted responsibility to the state Parole Board last month.
“I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” Williams told the board.
Jones was given the death penalty for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.
In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state.
“I forgive my executioners; somebody has to do it,” wrote Jones.
The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: “I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven’t the right.”
Including Jones, eight people have been executed in the United States this year, four in Texas, two in Arkansas and one each in Missouri and Virginia. Last year, 20 people were executed, down from 98 in 1999 and the lowest number since 14 in 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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