Apr 25, 2017

Arkansas Carries Out Double Execution Despite Concern Over 'Inhumane' Killing

'The sentences of Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are another heinous example of how the death penalty is applied to people with severe mental impairments and history of abuse'
By Lauren McCauley / commondreams.org
Arkansas Carries Out Double Execution Despite Concern Over 'Inhumane' Killing

The government of Arkansas executed two men Monday evening despite concerns from attorneys that the first state killing had been "torturous and inhumane."

Fifty two year-old Jake Harold Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 pm CDT, according to a timeline confirmed by the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Just over three hours later, Marcel Williams, 46, was pronounced dead at 10:33 CDT.

The inmates were initially scheduled to be executed one hour apart, but Williams' attorneys filed an emergency stay motion (pdf) saying that Jones' execution "appeared to be torturous and inhumane," as the inmate was reportedly still moving more than five minutes after the administration of the lethal drug "cocktail." Williams' attorneys argued that "current circumstances demonstrate an ongoing constitutional violation—cruel, unusual, and inhumane infliction of pain and suffering upon Mr. Williams that is imminent based on the Jones execution."

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker in Little Rock initially put Williams' execution on hold but, Reuters reported, "lifted her order around an hour later after holding a brief hearing on the matter, court filings showed."

The double-execution, the first to be carried out in the U.S. in 16 years, was scheduled as part of controversial plan to put to death eight inmates in 11 days, before the expiration of the state's supply of midazolam, one of the execution drugs contained in the deadly "cocktail."

"Both Jones and Williams," Reuters continued, "had argued that their obesity put them at heightened risk of pain due to the controversial midazolam, which was previously used in botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court denied those claims without comment."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only justice to dissent publicly from both orders.

Human rights groups and death penalty opponents have waged a fierce legal battle against the planned state killing spree, winning stays for four of the individuals slated for execution. Ledell Lee was put to death last week while the next execution, of Kenneth Dewayne Williams, is scheduled for Thursday.

In addition to arguing that Williams and Jones would suffer unnecessarily because of their physical impairments, both men were said to have mental and emotional problems as a result of childhood abuse and trauma.

Before his death, Jones issued a statement of apology to his victims and their families.

In a statement issued late Monday, James Clark, senior campaigner with Amnesty International USA, said: "Tonight Arkansas continues its shameful backslide against prevailing trends away from the death penalty."

"The sentences of Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are another heinous example of how the death penalty is applied to people with severe mental impairments and history of abuse," Clark continued. "This conveyor belt of death must stop immediately by commuting the remaining sentences, and abolishing the death penalty once and for all."

And leading anti-death penalty voice Sister Helen Prejean, who authored the book Dead Man Walking (and was later portrayed in the 1995 film by the same name), is encouraging other opponents to keep pressuring Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and state attorney general Leslie Rutledge to end state-sanctioned killings.

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