POLITICS
04/27/2017 05:44 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2017

Arkansas Executes 4th Inmate In A Week

Kenneth Williams' lawyers argued he was intellectually disabled, making his execution unconstitutional.

The state of Arkansas prevailed in a legal showdown late Thursday over the last execution in its aggressive, and widely criticized, effort to put eight inmates to death over 11 days.

Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. CDT at the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ Cummins Unit outside of Little Rock. A prison spokesmen said Williams shook for approximately 10 seconds about three minutes after his lethal injection began, The Associated Press reported. The spokesman did not provide further details.

Williams was the fourth man to be executed by the state since last week. On Monday the state carried out the nation’s first double execution in 17 years. Defense lawyers argued that one of the men had an untested innocence claim while the execution of another appeared to have been botched.

Four of the eight inmates marked for execution received individual stays of execution, including one who was initially scheduled for lethal injection on the same night as Williams.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson pointed to the four executions Thursday night as proof the state’s “system of laws has worked”:

Late Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court, which represented Williams’ last chance for a stay, denied to grant him a reprieve or hear his case. 

Williams’ lawyers filed multiple petitions throughout the day Thursday to local and state courts, hoping to spare his life. In their petition to the Supreme Court, they argued for a halt to his execution, claiming he was intellectual disabled, which would make him ineligible for execution under the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishments. 

Shawn Nolan, an attorney whose office was recently appointed to represent Williams, said earlier Thursday that the state had not offered evidence to counter what he called “the substantial proof” that Williams was intellectually disabled, nor had it offered its own expert witness to support its side. 

“Unfortunately, the courts have simply refused to allow Mr. Williams to prove his intellectual disability, a disability that would prohibit his execution,” Nolan said in a statement. “To think Mr. Williams can be executed without any court review is simply unimaginable and would be a grave injustice.” 

His legal team also noted that Williams had various health conditions, including lupus and sickle cell anemia, that could cause him to suffer an unconstitutionally painful death. 

Arkansas Attorney Genera Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, opposed clemency or a stay of execution and accused Williams of trying to run down the clock: Williams’ death warrant was set to expire at midnight Thursday, while the state’s supply of midazolam, the first drug in the three-drug lethal injection protocol, expires at the end of the month. 

The expiring drug supply is what propelled the state’s unprecedented execution schedule, as Gov. Hutchinson had said it was unclear whether the state would be able to procure more of the drugs after its existing supply expired.

Williams was convicted of killing three people and had admitted to killing a fourth. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2000 for the 1998 kidnapping and killing of Dominique Hurd, a student at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Less than three weeks into the start of his life sentence, Williams escaped from a maximum-security prison in southeast Arkansas and fatally shot Cecil Boren, a 57-year-old farmer, while on the run. Williams fled when police found him and fatally crashed into 24-year-old Michael Greenwood, a delivery truck driver, while trying to escape. Williams was sentenced to death for killing Boren.

In 2005, Williams confessed to killing 36-year-old Jerrell Jenkins, whom he fatally shot the same day as Hurd, in a letter to the editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial. Williams, who described himself as a born-again Christian, said he took responsibility for his actions.

Greenwood’s family was among those who called for clemency; on Thursday morning, Greenwood’s widow and daughter, Kayla, requested a meeting with Hutchinson to make their plea. 

“His execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been taken, but it will cause additional suffering,” read Kayla Greenwood’s letter.

The Greenwood family said they forgive Williams. They even paid for plane tickets for his daughter and granddaughter who live in Washington state so that they could see him before his execution. 

Williams’ lawyers noted that the clemency board never heard from the Greenwoods during his clemency hearing earlier this month and that they only heard from the Boren family, which supported the state’s plan to execute Williams. 

Following Williams’ lethal injection, Rutledge said in a statement that “the rule of law was upheld” and added that “I pray this lawful execution will bring closure and peace to the Boren family.”

Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty, criticized Arkansas’s aggressive actions in contrast to other states that have slowed or halted their pace of executions.

“While the rest of the country and the world moves away from the death penalty, Arkansas has shown just how committed it is to running in the wrong direction,” James Clark, a senior campaigner at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. Clark noted that while it was too late for the four men executed in the past week ―  Kenneth Williams, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Ledell Lee, “it is not too late to commute the sentences of all of those remaining on death row.”

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