Saturday 16 December 2017

Why have four Arkansas inmates been executed in just eight days?

By Edward Dracott

The reasoning behind the quick-fire killings has been called “close to random”.

A fourth inmate has been executed by lethal injection in the US state Arkansas in just eight days.

The four lethal injections are the first in Arkansas since 2005 and include the first double execution in the US since 2000 – the news has hence hit headlines across the world.

Here, we discuss who has been killed, why it’s happened and why it’s such a significant story.

Why now?

The reason given by the state for the quick-fire executions is that the state’s supply of one of the three drugs they use to carry out lethal injections – called midazolam – expires on April 30.

However, initially the number of deaths was due to be twice as many. The state had planned for four double executions, killing eight inmates over a period of 11 days.

These plans were quashed however, after courts issued stays for four of the inmates.

Who has been killed?

The latest to be executed was 38-year-old Kenneth Williams. Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden after he escaped from prison in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop in 1999, three weeks after being incarcerated for a life-term for killing a college cheerleader.

Before his execution, Williams apologised to the families he had “senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones” saying he “was more than wrong”. He was pronounced dead 13 minutes after his lethal injection was administered, convulsing 20 times before he died.

“Any amount of movement he might have had was far less than any of his victims,” said Jodie Efird, one of Williams’ victims’ daughters. Williams’ lawyers claimed he was intellectually disabled and should not have been eligible for execution.

On Monday, Jack Jones, 52, and Marcel Williams, 46, were killed just three hours apart and on the same gurney – the bed on which inmates are executed.

Both men were sentenced to death for the rape and killing of a woman in the mid-90s and both expressed their regret before their deaths. Jones’ execution is reported to have gone ahead on schedule, but Williams’ was delayed due to the manner in which the previous execution was carried out – it was said Jones had been gasping for air.

However, these claims were quashed by a state attorney and Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 local time, an hour later than had been scheduled.

The first man to be executed of the four was 51-year-old Ledell Lee. Lee was pronounced dead at just before midnight local time last Thursday – having been put on death row for the 1993 death of his neighbour Debra Reese.

Lee’s execution is said to have gone ahead without any hitch, losing consciousness after two minutes. Unlike the others, he didn’t give a final statement.

Why is it so significant?

The last time Arkansas executed four men in an eight-day period was 1960, so this number alone is a significant leap. However, the original plans for eight executions would have been the most in the US over such a short period since capital punishment was reinstated by the US Supreme Court in 1976.

Hence this unusual death penalty schedule has caught people’s attention, while the reasoning behind it has been called into question. At least one high court justice expressed serious reservations about what critics have called Arkansas’ rush to the death chamber.

“Apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these eight executions is that the ‘use by’ date of the state’s execution drug is about to expire,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. “In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random.”

Protests against the death penalty have taken place across the US. However, this is an issue which still divides the nation. Pro-death penalty demonstrations have taken place in tandem, with supporters and protesters separated only by a stone’s-throw distance.

The Arkansas Department of Correction has claimed it has no new supply for midazolam, which is normally a surgical sedative but it has made similar claims in the past and still found a new source.

State officials have deemed the string of executions a success, and given “closure” to the families of the inmates’ victims.

Press Association

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