Two men are scheduled to be put to death in Arkansas Monday evening as the state presses on with an execution spree hastily organized due to the looming expiration dates on its controversial lethal injection drugs.
It would be the first double execution in the United States since 2000.
Death row inmates Jack Jones Jr. and Marcel Williams had asked Arkansas’ Supreme Court to halt their executions and grant them stays, but the state’s highest court rejected their request. Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court are pending.
Jones has been on death row since 1996, after he was convicted of raping and murdering a 34-year-old female accountant in the small town of Bald Knob; he also beat and choked her 11-year-old daughter in an apparent attempt to murder her. In requesting a stay, Jones’ attorneys cited his alleged history of suicide attempts, the sexual abuse he reportedly endured as a child, and his bipolar disorder, which went undiagnosed for years and caused him to have hallucinations. Jones’ lawyers argued that when their client was initially sentenced, the jury did not weigh these things as potential mitigating factors.
Williams was sentenced to death in 1997 for the abduction, rape, and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson. Similar to Jones, Williams’ attorneys contend that their client’s original trial lawyers failed to address the kind of trauma and abject poverty he had endured as a child, including being “routinely” pimped by his mother in exchange for food stamps, and serving time in an adult prison as a teenager, where he was reportedly gang raped.
Attorneys representing the two men had also requested stays on the basis of their poor health conditions. Because Williams is obese, his lawyers argue that his execution would be “a slow, agonizing death experienced as suffocation.” Jones, according to his lawyers, has diabetes and apnea, and they say that the medication he takes could impact the effectiveness of the lethal injection drugs.
The two men are among the eight death row inmates whom the state chose to execute this month before its supply of midazolam — a sedative used in a three-drug lethal injection protocol — expires. Midazolam has becoming a growing source of controversy due to its use in several high-profile botched executions in Arizona, Alabama, and Oklahoma. Arkansas says it has no way to restock its supply after this batch runs out.
The state embarked on its execution schedule last week despite criticism from civil rights groups such as Amnesty International that accused Arkansas of “callously rushing the judicial process by treating human beings as though they have a sell-by date.”
Arkansas’ plan also prompted nearly two dozen former corrections officials to sign an open letter to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying they were worried about the impact this flurry of executions would have on correction officers’ mental health.
Of the eight inmates selected for execution, three have so far been spared by federal judges and granted stays. Another, Ledell Lee, was executed on Friday evening, 35 minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Lee’s final appeals. It was the first execution Arkansas had carried out in 11 years.
The state’s flurry of execution attempts comes at a time when executions nationally have sunk to a 25-year low. In 2016, five states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas — accounted for all 20 executions nationally. As a result, for the first time in a decade, the U.S. did not appear in Amnesty International’s top five most prolific executioners worldwide. And according to Pew Research, last year public support for capital punishment hit a 40-year-low.