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Demand for Probe as Arkansas Killing Spree Concludes With 'Shaking and Convulsions'

In letter sent to Arkansas governor, victim's daughter pleads for clemency: "His execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been taken, but it will cause additional suffering."

Protesters gather outside the Arkansas Capitol building on April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo: AP/Kelly P. Kissel)

Protesters gather outside the Arkansas Capitol building on April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo: AP/Kelly P. Kissel)

The government of Arkansas concluded its controversial and unprecedented killing spree Thursday night with what many are calling the botched execution of Kenneth Williams, which has prompted demands for an investigation into whether he was unlawfully "tortured" by the state before his death.

According to a timeline released by the the Arkansas Department of Correction, the execution drugs were administered to Williams beginning at 10:52pm CDT and he was pronounced dead at 11:05pm. However, witnesses at the execution said that he appeared to suffer as the lethal drug "cocktail" was administered, prompting one to say that "it looked like something was wrong."

KATV News reports:

In announcing his death, [Arkansas Department of Correction's] Solomon Graves told the reporters Williams shook for about 10 seconds three minutes into his lethal injection at 10:55 p.m. [...]

However, media representatives who witnessed Williams death offered a slightly different version of Williams' death, specifically the brief period of convulsions.

According to Associated Press state editor Kelly Kissel, Williams convulsed and shook 15 to 20 times over a period of 10 to 20 seconds. Afterwards, he continued to gasp and made an audible groaning sound until about 10:59 a.m., the witnesses said. 

"Having never seen an execution like this, it looked like something was wrong," said Fox 16 news anchor Donna Terrell, one of the three media witnesses.

Shawn Nolan, of the Capital Habeaus Unit with the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and one of Williams' attorneys, issued a statement following Williams' death describing the accounts of his execution as "horrifying."

"We tried over and over again to get the state to comport with their own protocol to avoid torturing our client to death," Nolan said, "and yet reports from the execution witnesses indicate that Mr. Williams suffered during this execution. Press reports state that within three minutes into the execution, our client began coughing, convulsing, jerking, and lurching with sound that was audible even with the microphone turned off. This is very disturbing, but not at all surprising given the history of the risky sedative midazolam, which has been used in many botched executions."

"What's important right now, is that all the information about tonight's execution must be meticulously documented and preserved so that we can discover exactly what happened in that execution chamber," he continued. "We are requesting a full investigation into tonight's problematic execution."


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Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, echoed that call saying that the grisly account raises "serious questions about whether the state, in its rush to use up its supply of midazolam before it expired, has violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Mr. Williams' execution must be reviewed to investigate the witnesses' accounts and determine whether the state tortured Mr. Williams before killing him." 

Williams' death marked the fourth and final execution carried out within a week by the Arkansas government before the expiration of the controversial drug. Four additionally planned killings received court-ordered stays.

As Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, pointed out on Twitter, "[a]ll of the eight scheduled executions involved white victims." However, "three of the four white prisoners got stays" while "three of the four black prisoners did not."

Before he was put to death, Williams read prepared remarks asking for forgiveness. "I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all were senseless, extremely hurtful, and inexcusable. I humbly beg your forgiveness and pray you find the peace, healing, and closure you all deserve," Williams read. "I am not the same person I was. I have been transformed. Some things can't be undone. I seek forgiveness."

Williams was convicted of killing four people, including Missouri resident Michael Greenwood. Greenwood's daughter and widow had sought to testify before the Arkansas Parole Board and ask for clemency for Williams. In a letter sent to Governor Asa Hutchinson, Kayla Greenwood describes why "[h]is execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been taken, but it will cause additional suffering."

The letter recounts how the Greenwood family brought Williams' daughter, Jasmine, and granddaughter to the prison to see him one last time. Kayla Greenwood writes:

Jasmine told me that when she saw her father and talked to him she knew he was a different man. He was a man of love and gratitude for the opportunity to say his last goodbye. I have come to learn that he is man who counsels and helps people who may be in a dark place because they never felt love, or were victims of a horrible upbringing that caused trauma and hurt. 

Because he once knew that same dark place, Mr. Williams could connect and show people that from even the darkest of places, you can always come out and change and help others to see right from wrong. 

Being there for others, no matter what, and showing what true pure unconditional love is and feels like, that is the closest we can get to God in this physical world. I know Mr. Williams has and will change people he meets for the better and alive, he can make a positive difference and I believe that is the most beautiful story of justice.

Minutes before Williams was scheduled to be executed at 7pm, the U.S. Supreme Court requested time to review his case. Williams had filed an appeal arguing that "his execution should be put on hold to allow him to demonstrate that he is intellectually disabled and therefore cannot be put to death," SCOTUS Blog reports. After reviewing, the justices declined to intervene.

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