Death Penalty

Corrections Department

Updated at 7:45pm:  The state is holding off on the execution until it hears from the U.S. Supreme Court.  Kenneth Williams' death warrant expires at midnight.

A recent series of executions in Arkansas could conclude tonight if the state puts inmate Kenneth Williams to death.  He is currently scheduled for lethal injection at 7pm, and his attorneys are spending the day exploring last-minute legal options for a stay. 

By early afternoon, Williams had lost all claims to the state Supreme Court but still had a complaint pending in Circuit Court of Pulaski County claiming that he is at high risk for a painful death from the three-drug lethal injection cocktail due to sickle cell trait, Lupus and organic brain damage.  His supporters have also claimed that Williams has a low I.Q. (70) and should not be eligible for the death penalty.

The Arkansas executions quickly took over Twitter Monday evening, as those watching the events furiously tweeted rage, regret, sorrow and celebration in 140 characters or less.

Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death penalty activist who was portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film “Dead Man Walking,” tweeted all evening about seeking a last-minute miracle, ultimately resigning to the fact that the executions would take place and asking for the victims’ families to be included in prayers.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Without any official program, anti-death penalty protesters busied themselves Monday evening with song and prayer. And Twitter.

"'The court reinstituted Marcell Williams' death sentence for procedural reason no more.' What? Hold on, let's figure out what's happening."

Laura Hardy said the thing that’s most gotten under her skin the last couple of weeks of Arkansas executions has been the seemingly gleeful, baiting comments made on Twitter and elsewhere from Arkansas politicians. 

Arkansas Executes Inmate Jack Jones

Apr 24, 2017
Corrections Department

Arkansas inmate Jack Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20pm Thursday evening.  Earlier in the day, he exhausted all appeals to state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.  Jones was executed for the 1995 slaying of bookkeeper and mother Mary Phillips in front of her 11-year-old daughter.  Witnesses reported the execution via a three-drug lethal injection cocktail took about fourteen minutes.

Inmate Marcel Williams is expected to be executed tonight as well, making Arkansas the first state to carry out a double execution since 2000.

Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

10:39 Update:

An ADC spokesman says Marcel Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m. The procedure began at 10:16. 

A spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction declared that Jack Jones was executed Monday night by lethal injection. His execution began at 7:06 p.m. and he was declared dead at 7:20 p.m.

"He was covered in a sheet with his arms extended," said media witness, Andrew DeMillo, from the Associated Press. DeMillo noted Jones' lips continued moving for several minutes after the execution began though witnesses were not able to hear sound from the execution chamber.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

A legal challenge to Monday's planned execution of Jack Jones was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

In an Arkansas Public Media story yesterday reported Jack Jones’ attorney Jeff Rosenzweig objected to the jury in Jones' sentencing. Specifically, they filled out paperwork to show contradictory findings about whether there were valid reasons, or mitigating factors, to avoid a death penalty sentence.

His attorney Jeff Rosenzweig argued precedent in Arkansas is to grant re-sentencing when there’s been such an error.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkanas Public Media

Reporters, as a rule, don't like waiting or wondering. For those covering Arkansas's executions, the night begins around dinner time and, at least this week, didn't end until after midnight, and as late as 11:00 no one knew what exactly would happen.  With his death warrant set to expire at midnight, Ledell Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56pm from the three-drug lethal injection cocktail that had been administered some twelve minutes earlier.

Corrections Department

With his death warrant set to expire at midnight, inmate Ledell Lee died at 11:56pm, as confirmed by the Corrections Department.  After another day of legal drama, the execution got underway shortly after word came that the U.S. Supreme Court would not take action to prevent the state from putting Lee to death via lethal injection.

Lee claimed that he was innocent in the February 1993 beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese during a robbery in her home.  Prosecutors said he beat Reese multiple times with a tire iron and had a previous history of brutal assaults on women.  Lee was 51 when he died Thursday night, the first of several planned executions.

The other executions are set for April 24 and April 27.

Update at 11:42pm:  The execution of Ledell Lee is underway, according to the Corrections Department. 

Update at 11:21pm: Signs are pointing to the Ledell Lee execution taking place before midnight, when his death warrant expires. 

Update at 10:30pm: Lee has lost all requests to the 8th Circuit Court.  The U.S. Supreme Court is now the focus. 

From previous reports:

Inmate Ledell Lee could become the first Arkansas prisoner put to death in twelve years as early as tonight.

The state Supreme Court has allowed the use of vecuronium bromide, the second of three drugs to be administered as part of a lethal injection cocktail.  On Wednesday, a judge had blocked the use of the drug.  The state then sought and received a fast reversal from the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Lee has been on death row for the beating death of 26-year-old Debra Reese during a robbery in her home in February 1993 and was called a "super predator" by prosecutors for other alleged attacks on women.

Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

Arkansas’s now six scheduled executions this month have been effectively stayed, again. This time it’s the result of a drug supplier suing to block usage of its product in the state’s lethal injections.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Alice Gray in Little Rock has granted a temporary injunction in favor of the drug supplier McKesson Corp. The company says the Department of Correction used deceptive practices to obtain its vecuronium bromide.

Testimony from both sides diverged on whether prison officials were forthright that they were ordering the drugs for use in an execution. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

  

While a small group of local protesters gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock Monday night, a larger group of international journalists convened death penalty coverage from within the visitation center inside the fenced perimeter of Cummins Prison.

Night Of The Stay

Apr 18, 2017
Michael Hibblen / KUAR

I've always wanted to be picked. Who doesn't? Little League, passing out papers, taste tester of Meemaw's pasta sauce. So when it came to filling the last of three media witness slots at the Arkansas Department of Correction's first execution in 12 years, I threw my name in the hat. 'Maybe I get picked,' I thought, with some small amount of delight not unlike making your Mega Millions pick.

Amhest College

There were a number of signs that the Arkansas executions were headed for a last-minute stay, according to an Amherst College professor who has studied and written extensively on the history of capital punishment in the United States.

“I don’t think it’s a surprising development,” said Sarat, who first spoke with Arkansas Public Media several weeks ago and then agreed to a follow-up interview following news of the stays.

Sarat said the decision may have hinged on the fast pace of the executions, which would have seen seven men put to death via lethal injection over a ten day period. An eighth inmate was granted a reprieve previously.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Easter morning Arkansas politicians shared their faith with Twitter followers. Have a blessed Easter, He is risen, went a Arkansas House Majority account tweet that was dutifully retweeted by some members of the House Republican majority. 

Tonally it was a shift from the day before, and before the day was over it would shift again, back to the big news of the weekend, two judges' stays of Arkansas's scheduled executions set to begin today. 

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

  

Monday the state begins executing death row inmates. Seven in all. But today, as Christians everywhere marked the Passion of Jesus, an anti-Death Penalty throng converged on the steps of the Capitol.

 

Little Rock Diocesan Bishop Anthony Taylor reminded the crowd — those who stood in judgment of Jesus were pretty sure he deserved to die. For that matter, Moses too. He’d murdered an Egyptian.

 

"If God could use a murderer to set his people free and lead them to the promised land, then there is hope for everyone."

Karen Tricot Steward / Arkansas Public Media

Governor Asa Hutchinson has great confidence that the seven executions set for this month will be carried out successfully.

“I don't expect [a botched execution] to happen. I went [to the Arkansas Department of Correction] and I reviewed the protocols, procedures and training. But, obviously, there's contingency plans. That's why we have communication directly from the chambers there to my office,” said Hutchinson.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

Last week a former Little Rock police officer took the stand in federal court to explain what happened on a night five years ago when he shot and killed a 15 year old. If he convinces 12 jurors he took appropriate action he and the city will not have to come up with millions in punitive and compensatory damages.

The same could never happen if something goes wrong in the planned executions of eight men over 11 days beginning Monday, say defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig and Terrence Cain, University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law professor.

“The 11th [amendment to the Constitution] prohibits [lawsuits seeking] damages against states unless Congress specifically abrogates,” says Cain.

“The state has sovereign immunity in something like this,” Rosenzweig says.

Eastern District of Arkansas / United States Federal Court

The effects of the sedative midazolam, along with Arkansas's execution practices generally, were the subject of a federal hearing that began in Little Rock Monday that could halt seven planned executions of death row inmates starting next week.  

State Solicitor General Lee Rudofsky told U.S. District Judge Karen Baker that the inmates' case has no basis in law, and that their complaints under the Eighth Amendment have already been dismissed by previous U.S. Supreme Court and 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings.

He deflected arguments by the inmates' attorneys that an expedited schedule of double executions over ten days would minimize the inmates' access to effective counsel and increase the risk of error at the Arkansas Department of Correction.

"A risk of maladministration or accident is not cognizable under the 8th Amendment, but more importantly, their allegation is entirely speculative."

"It's punishment. We are going to take a person who's helpless and we're going to kill him. Why? Because he deserves it," says New York Law School professor Robert Blecker on the death penalty.

Blecker is the author of The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice Among the Worst of the Worst.

Arkansas Public Media

A federal judge has granted an injunction in the execution of Jason F. McGehee, one of the eight Arkansas inmates scheduled to be executed later this month.

Marshall denied requests for injunctions for five other condemned men whom the parole board did not recommend clemency.

 A lawyer for Arkansas death row inmates scheduled for execution later this month is arguing the state's accelerated timeline is subverting the state's clemency hearing protocol, functionally eliminating a public input period for the condemned men.

Public defender Julie Vandiver made that argument today inside federal Judge D.P. Marshall Jr.'s courtroom in Little Rock.

  Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court today stayed a lower court's ruling that the Arkansas Department of Corrections must release information about the drugs expected to be used in the executions.

To the eight men scheduled to be executed over 10 days this month by the state of Arkansas, the question is when. When will they die? On the day and time of the state's choosing — April 17, 20, 24 and 27 — or some later date, dependent on a court-ordered stay of their execution? For others without more than a passing interest in the news, the question might be why, followed by how.

How does the state end the life of an inmate, without pain but without error?

In Arkansas's case, the answer, for better or worse, is lethal injection. 

Grove Pashley

Next month the state of Arkansas will execute eight of its 33 inmates, in pairs over four evenings and by lethal injection.

For more than 18 years Damien Echols was one of those on death row. He knows all eight men and says Don W. Davis, scheduled to die April 17, "kept me alive." 

Here's his full Arkansas Public Media interview with reporter Ann Kenda in which he talks about the justice of capital punishment, life on death row, life after death row and his wife, Lorri, whom he married while on the block. 

Echols was reached at his home in New York.