Arkansas executes fourth inmate in eight days | News | DW | 28.04.2017
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Arkansas executes fourth inmate in eight days

The US state of Arkansas has executed its fourth inmate in the space of just eight days by lethal injection. Reports suggest Kenneth Williams lurched and convulsed during the procedure.

The US State of Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days on Thursday, the last of a series of controversial lethal injections scheduled this month before one of the drugs used reaches its expiry date.

Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 pm local time, 14 minutes after the execution procedure began. He received a three-drug cocktail that included the controversial sedative midazolam meant to make a person unconscious before two other drugs stop breathing and the heart. 

Read: Arkansas performs first double execution in ten years

Witnesses and media pool reports described Williams as "lurching, convulsing, coughing and jerking" during the procedure.  A prison spokesperson said Williams shook for about 10 seconds three minutes into the lethal injection. 

Spokesman J.R. Davis said the movements were a "involuntary muscular reaction," adding that Governor Asa Hutchinson was confident the execution was carried out in a "flawless" manner as the three other ones this month.

Shawn Nolan, Williams' attorneys, said in a statement he would demand "a full investigation into tonight's problematic execution."

USA Einsatz von Midazolam bei Hinrichtungen (picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Ogrocki)

Midazolam is used for a number of medical purposes, including anesthesia and reducing anxiety.

Williams was convicted to life in prison without parole for the 1998 murder of 19-year-old cheerleader Dominique Hurd. After less than month behind bars, he managed to escape. Whilst on the run, he murdered Cecil Boren, 57, at his farmhouse before fleeing with a pickup truck to Missouri. There, Williams crashed the truck into a delivery vehicle, killing the driver. Williams was sentenced to death for the murder of Boren.

"I extend my sincerest of apologies to the families I have senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones," Williams said in a final statement he read from the death chamber. "... I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all was senseless, extremely hurtful and inexcusable."

Read: Amnesty report: Death sentences up, but executions down

Arkansas had planned to administer eight lethal injections by the end of the month, but courts stayed four of the executions in separate decisions. The rush to execute was made because the state's stock of midazolam will expire at the end of the month.

Infografik Todesstrafe USA ENG

Prosecutors in Arkansas have argued defendants were trying to tie up their cases in the courts to buy time until the stock of midazolam expires. The state prison system has said that they will then have no more stock of the drug. 

"The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last two weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked," Hutchinson said in a statement issued after the execution. "Carrying out the penalty of the jury in the Kenneth Williams case was necessary. There has never been a question of guilt."

Many of the legal battles in Arkansas have been over midazolam, mirroring similar cases in other US states that have the death penalty.

Execution candidates in Arkansas

Arkansas had originally planned to execute eight inmates in April

Midazolam began to be used as a sedative in the lethal injection cocktail in 2013 when states struggled to obtain a previously used drug after manufacturers stopped selling the chemicals for executions and the European Union in 2012 imposed controls of the export of drugs that could be used in executions.

Cut off from the supply of drugs, many states had to put off executions or experiment with new lethal injection combinations.

Most lethal injections occurred without mishaps, but a series of botched executions using midazolam and other drugs in which the executed apparently suffered raised legal challenges the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment was being violated. 

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that states could use midazolam, but that has not stopped its use from tangling up executions in courts or leaving states struggling to obtain the drug. 

Since the Supreme Court ruled to reinstate the death penalty in 1973, the 31 US states that have the death penalty have carried out 1,452 executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 

Over the same period, 158 people on death row were later exonerated of their crime. There are currently 2,902 inmates on death row.

cw/rt (AP, Reuters)

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