Arkansas goes through with double execution despite allegations that one inmate was “gulping for air”
For a few minutes Monday night, it seemed like the United States’s first double execution in more than a decade would not take place. After attorneys alleged that Arkansas inmate Jack Jones suffered a “torturous and inhumane” execution Monday evening, a federal judge briefly put what was to be the second state execution of the night on hold before ultimately allowing it to proceed.
Not long after Jones’ execution, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a stay of execution for inmate Marcel Williams, citing court filings arguing that continuing with his execution would “demonstrate an ongoing constitutional violation—cruel, unusual, and inhumane infliction of pain and suffering,” because Jones remained partially conscious during his execution. Just an hour later, she lifted the stay “for reasons stated in the Court’s hearing on Mr. William’s emergency motion,” according to her order.
Arkansas initially announced that it intended to carry out an unprecedented eight executions in just 11 days because its supply of midazolam — a controversial sedative that has led to botched lethal injections in states like Arizona, Alabama and Oklahoma — was set to expire at the end of April. The plan was met with several legal challenges, including claims that midazolam would likely fail and result in inmates suffering inhumanely, and allegations that Arkansas’ Department of Correction was far from equipped to carry out such an arduous string of executions.
According to the inmates’ attorneys, that’s exactly what happened in Jones’s execution.
“The infirmary staff tried unsuccessfully to place [an IV] central line in Mr. Jones’s neck for 45 minutes before placing one elsewhere on his body,” the motion, filed in U.S. district court, alleges. Minutes after midazolam had been injected, “Mr. Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air. Mr. Jones’s movements after the midazolam was administered is evidence of continued consciousness.”
Attorneys for Jones and Williams, arguing against the death penalty, had said that the two men had underlying medical conditions which were likely to make execution more painful or impact the effectiveness of the three-drug lethal injection cocktail.
The state of Arkansas contends that the attorneys’ account of Jones’s execution is inaccurate, saying that although the Arkansas Department of Correction officers did fail in their attempt to place an IV in Jones’s neck, they were ultimately successful in sedating him. “The claim that Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air is unsupported by press accounts or the accounts of other witnesses,” an Arkansas filing reads. “The drugs were administered to Jones at 7:06 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m. There was no constitutional violation in Jones’ execution.”
Williams was executed on the same gurney and pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.
Jones was convicted in 1996 for raping and murdering a 34-year-old Mary Phillips, and Williams was convicted in 1997 for the abduction, rape, and murder of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson.
In a handwritten statement, Jones apologized for his crime and said he tried to better himself on death row. “I want people to know that when I came to prison I made up my mind that I would be a better person when I left than when I came in. I had no doubt in my mind that I would make every effort to do this. I’d like to think that I’ve accomplished this. I made every effort to be a good person — I practiced Buddhism and studied physics. I met the right people and did the right things. There are no words that would fully express my remorse for the pain I’ve caused.”
The AP reports Jones had “fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, beef jerky bites, three candy bars, a chocolate milkshake and fruit punch” for his last meal and Williams had “fried chicken, banana pudding, nachos, two sodas and potato logs with ketchup.”
When asked for comment, the Arkansas Department of Correction told a VICE News reporter to call back during normal business hours and hung up the phone.