The State of Arkansas performed a double execution on Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Williams on April 24 at Cummins Unit state prison, but the state-sponsored killings may have been botched (video below).
Many details of the executions are unknown because of the state's secrecy surrounding its execution processes, but a court filing allegedly says Jones was "moving his lips and gulping for air" during his execution, implying he may have been conscious, Democracy Now! reports.
Arkansas uses Midazolam as part of its execution cocktail, but Midazolam is not an anesthetic used to put people under during surgery. Midazolam is a sedative, and has failed for this off-label use at other executions.
Jones' lawyers argued before his execution that his client's medical condition would likely pose a problem for the Midazolam to be effective.
Medical workers at the prison reportedly spent more than 45 minutes failing to put an IV line into Jones' neck.
Before his execution, Jones apologized to the daughter of Mary Phillips whom Jones confessed to raping and killing in 1995.
After Jones was executed, Williams filed for a last-minute appeal because Jones' execution may have been botched and painful. A judge gave Williams a temporary stay for a little more than a couple of hours.
Ed Pilkington of The Guardian told Democracy Now!: "Marcel Williams was kept strapped to the gurney the entire time [of the temporary stay]... So, for maybe longer than two-and-a-half hours, this 400-pound prisoner was kept strapped to a gurney, which I think is fairly disturbing in itself."
Pilkington also recalled how media witnesses of the execution were held in a van during that time:
Now, the media -- the three media witnesses were kept held in a van while this -- the delay was happening because of the court proceedings. They had a little window at the back of the van that they could look out the back of. They saw Marcel Williams being taken out to the bathroom and then brought back
He was brought back at about 9:29. The execution began at 10:16. We don’t know anything about what happened in that period. And I think that’s important and will continue to be important, and it’s because of the secrecy that the death penalty states have imposed on the entire process of execution.
The media witnesses were only allowed to see when the curtain was opened and the execution began. They were not allowed to see the crucial period in which IV lines were tried to be found. And that was a problem that we had in the Jack Jones execution earlier in the evening. The state, by its own admission in court filings, admitted that they tried to find an IV line in the prisoner’s neck and failed.
Williams was convicted for raping, kidnapping and murdering Stacy Errickson in 1994.
Journalist Jacob Rosenberg witnessed Williams die, and wrote about in The Guardian on April 25:
His eyes began to droop and eventually closed (the right one lingered slightly open throughout). His breaths became deep and heavy. His back arched off the gurney as he sucked in air.
I could not count the number of times his body moved in such a way, rising off the gurney.
Procedure dictates that five minutes after the introduction of midazolam there should be no movements. But, at 10.21pm, Williams was still breathing heavily and moving. The man in the room checked his pulse and touched his eyes and said something. (The audio was cut off for us.)
Pilkington told Democracy Now! about the censorship restrictions that Arkansas placed on the media during the executions:
To start with, they wouldn’t even allow us laptops into the media room, where we were watching if we weren’t in the death chamber. Now, this is just a visiting room. We’re not anywhere near the death chamber. We’re not a security issue. We weren’t allowed laptops, to start with.
They consented on that in the end, but we weren’t allowed telephones in the room. And in the end, they only allowed reporters to take in notepads and pencils supplied to them by the prison service, as though there was something like a reporter would carry in their own notebook that would do something subservient or something.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas issued a statement after Jones was executed, notes NPR, but made no mention of the problems the state had putting him to death:
The victim's family has waited patiently for justice during that time. The jury sentenced Jack Jones to death, and his sentence was upheld by judges and reviewed thoroughly in courts of appeal at each level.
A governor never asks for this responsibility, but I accept it as part of the solemn pledge I made to uphold the law. Jack Jones expressed his willingness to proceed today, and we hope this will help bring closure to the Phillips family.