Arkansas’s unprecedented execution spree came to end Thursday, when the state put Kenneth Williams to death by lethal injection. Williams was the fourth Arkansas death row prisoner to die in the last eight days.
Various state and federal courts denied several of Williams’s last-minute appeals Thursday, and Arkansas held off on starting the execution until the U.S. Supreme Court had officially denied his petitions, a courtesy granted by many states in death penalty cases.
Just after 11 p.m. ET, three orders — one for each of his petitions — from the Supreme Court arrived. Their messages were brief: Denied.
Arkansas had originally planned to execute eight men over 11 days, before its supply of the controversial sedative midazolam expired at the end of the month, but a sprawling legal saga cut the state’s goal in half. One inmate, Jason McGehee, was recommended for clemency by the state parole board, while three others — Bruce Ward, Don Davis, and Stacey Johnson — were granted stays of execution.
So it wasn’t until April 20, days after Arkansas’s spree had initially been set to start, that the first inmate, Ledell Lee, was put to death. Then, on April 24, both Jack Jones and Marcel Williams were executed within hours of one another, in the country’s first double execution since 2000.
But even Marcel Williams’s execution was briefly in question, as Judge Kristine Baker temporarily stayed it after allegations that nurses had tried for 45 minutes to place an IV central line into Jones’s beck during his execution, which was the first of the night. Jones’s attorneys later claimed that Jones was “moving his lips and gulping for air” minutes after the midazolam should have taken effect. Marcel Williams’s execution ultimately proceeded, although a media witness later said he could not be sure that the midazolam had truly taken effect.
“There are serious questions about how long it took and whether there was a failure to properly place the IVs,” Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham told VICE News of Jones’s execution. “Arkansas has created a vast shroud of secrecy that has masked a range of improper or at least questionable conduct.”
Early reports indicate that Williams had a similar experience in his execution and was moving and writhing around, according to New York Times reporter Alan Blinder who spoke to media witnesses at the scene. A spokesperson for the Governor reportedly said his movement was a “non voluntary muscle reaction” that would likely not be investigated further.
Williams, 38, was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of Cecil Boren, who Williams shot while in the midst of an escape attempt from prison. During that escape attempt, Williams also caused a car crash that killed Michael Greenwood. Williams had also already been sentenced to life without parole for the 1998 murder of Dominique Hurd, and later confessed to yet another murder while in prison.
Though Boren’s family asked the Arkansas Parole Board not to grant Williams — who has since become an ordained minister in prison — clemency, Greenwood’s family said they had forgiven him. They even bought Williams’s daughter and granddaughter tickets to fly to Arkansas to spend time with him before the execution.
“For the prisoner, as the fatal day approaches, the hardest part is knowing you’ve condemned your loved ones to a bitter fate,” Williams wrote in an article for VICE prior to his execution. “Once you depart, they have to carry on.”