by Dante Keeler
Arkansas executed two convicted murderers, Jack H. Jones and Marcel Williams, on Monday, the first time a state has executed two inmates on the same day since 2000. Ledell Lee, executed last Thursday, was the first inmate Arkansas executed since 2005. Kenneth Williams, convicted murderer of three, is also scheduled for execution on Thursday.
Although 12 years have passed without an execution in the state, Arkansas’ supply of one of the lethal injection drugs expires on April 30. The state scheduled eight executions for the second half of April in order to use the drugs before their expiration date.
Arkansas’ urgency is due to a recent problem. More drugs companies are refusing to sell lethal drugs to states. Midazolam is the first of three drugs in a lethal injection; it renders the inmate unconscious, while the second one paralyzes breathing and the third stops the heart.
Anti-death penalty groups have sharply criticized the state’s hurried scheduling as an example of the arbitrary way the death penalty is administered. Sister Helen Prejean, an advocate for the end of the death penalty, called out Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson for attempting to execute eight men in 11 days. “Governor, be a statesman and a real moral leader of the people,” she said. “Do what is morally right. As a state official, you should not be involved in the deliberate killing of human beings.”
Courts blocked four of the executions. Jones’ and Williams’ lawyers objected to the use of midazolam, a sedative in the three-drug combination that Arkansas administers during the procedure. Since the drug has not always proved effective in low doses, the executions could be unconstitutional if the inmates’ deaths were not painless. Additionally, both inmates have medical conditions that could potentially render the sedative ineffective.
A judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled against the two inmates. In a 2014 case courts affirmed the use of midazolam in a lethal injection in Oklahoma in which the inmate started shaking uncontrollably.
Lee’s execution last Thursday did not have any issues, while Jones’ was less clear. Lawyers for the inmates claimed that prison officials tried to insert a central line into Jones’ neck for 45 minutes before he died. A spokesman for the governor of Arkansas called the procedures to carry out the executions “flawless.”
Jones and Williams requested fried chicken and potato logs for their last meal, while Lee asked for Holy Communion. Lee had maintained his innocence, while both Jones and Williams have admitted their guilt.
According to a reporter who witnessed the execution, Jones apologized to Lacey Seal, the daughter of the woman he murdered. “I am glad it’s done. I’m glad that part of my life, that chapter, is closed,” said Seal.