Arkansas' aggressive effort to execute condemned inmates is set to conclude Thursday after the state Supreme Court refused to halt the execution of a man who killed a former deputy prison warden following an escape.
Kenneth Williams, 38, was sentenced to death for killing Cecil Boren after escaping from the Cummins Unit prison in a barrel of hog slop. Williams was initially serving a life term for killing a university cheerleader whose family he taunted when jurors spared his life.
Unless a court intervenes, Williams will die in the same prison from where he escaped in 1999.
Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before one of its lethal injection drugs expires at the end of April, the most in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
If Williams is put to death, the state will have carried out four of the eight it scheduled, including the nation's first double execution since 2000 on Monday night. The first of those two, Jack Jones, has stirred the most controversy after lawyers claimed there had been problems with the lethal injection.
The second execution was temporarily delayed while lawyers argued over what witnesses had seen after Jones received an injection of the sedative midazolam.
In an emergency hearing by telephone, Jeff Rosenzweig, a lawyer for death row inmates, told a federal judge that Jack Jones' mouth moved several times when he should have been unconscious. Jones' spiritual adviser described it as "a sort of gurgling." An observer from the state attorney general's office said it was "snoring; deep, deep sleep."
One minute after the conference call ended, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker allowed the second execution, of Marcel Williams, to proceed. He was dead 71 minutes later.
"Based upon what the court has learned from the eyewitnesses in regard to the execution, the court finds no support for a claim and an allegation that the execution appeared to be torturous and inhumane," Baker said in a transcript of the hearing released on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected a request to halt the execution of Kenneth Williams set for Thursday. He had escaped from the Cummins Unit— where the execution chamber is located in another part of the facility_less than three weeks into a life prison term for killing University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd in 1998. At the conclusion of that trial, he had taunted the young woman's family by turning to them after the sentence was announced and saying "You thought I was going to die, didn't you?"
He hid in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop being ferried from the prison kitchen to a feeding bay, and sneaked along a tree line until reaching Boren's house. He killed Boren, stole guns and Boren's truck and then drove away to Missouri. There, he crashed into a water-delivery truck, killing the driver. While in prison, he confessed to killing another person in 1998.
At the time of Boren's death, investigators said it did not appear Boren was targeted because of his former employment by the Arkansas Department of Correction.