Jack Jones and Marcel Williams received lethal injections on the same gurney Monday night, just about three hours apart. It was the first double execution in the United States since 2000.
While Jones, 52, was executed on schedule, shortly after 7 p.m., attorneys for Williams, 46, convinced a federal judge minutes later to briefly delay his execution over concerns about how the earlier one was carried out. They claimed Jones “was moving his lips and gulping for air,” an account the state’s attorney general denied, but the judge lifted her stay about an hour later and Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.
In the emergency filing, Williams’ attorneys wrote that officials spent 45 minutes trying to place an IV line in Jones’ neck before placing it elsewhere. It argued that Williams, who weighs 400 pounds, could have faced a “torturous” death because of his weight.
Intravenous lines are placed before witnesses are allowed access to the death chamber.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said Jones moved his lips briefly after the midazolam was administered, and officials put a tongue depressor in his mouth intermittently for the first few minutes. His chest stopped moving two minutes after they checked for consciousness, and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m.
Asked why Jones’ lips moved, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said he understood that the inmate was apologizing to the department director, Wendy Kelley, and thanking her for the way she treated him.
Williams was already in the death chamber when the temporary stay was issued. He was escorted out of the chamber and used the restroom, then was brought back in after the stay was lifted.
Initially, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug expires on April 30.
Besides the two executions Monday, Arkansas put to death one other inmate last week and has a final one scheduled for Thursday. Four others have been blocked.
Before last week, Arkansas hadn’t had an execution since 2005 or a double execution since 1999.
Jones, who’d argued that his health conditions could lead to a painful death, gave a lengthy last statement. His final words were: “I’m sorry.”
“I hope over time you can learn who I really am and I am not a monster,” he said in the roughly 2-minute statement.
Williams declined to make a final statement.
Jones was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.
He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.
Jones said earlier this month that he was ready for execution. He used a wheelchair and he’d had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes.
Williams’ “morbid obesity makes it likely that either the IV line cannot be placed or that it will be placed in error, thus causing substantial damage (like a collapsed lung),” his attorneys wrote in an earlier court filing asking justices to block the execution.
Both men were served last meals on Monday afternoon, according to Graves, the corrections department spokesman. Jones had fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, beef jerky bites, three candy bars, a chocolate milkshake and fruit punch. Williams had fried chicken, banana pudding, nachos, two sodas and potato logs with ketchup, Graves said.
In recent pleadings before state and federal courts, the inmates said the three drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — could be ineffective because of their poor health.
Williams weighed 400 pounds, was diabetic and had concerns that the execution team might not be able to find a suitable vein to support an intravenous line.
The poor health of both men, their lawyers claimed, could make it difficult for them to respond during a consciousness check following a megadose of midazolam. The state shouldn’t risk giving them drugs to stop their lungs and hearts if they aren’t unconscious, they have told courts.
The last state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day was Texas, which executed two killers in August 2000. Oklahoma planned a double execution in 2014 but scrapped plans for the second one after the execution of Clayton Lockett went awry.
Arkansas executed four men in an eight-day period in 1960. The only quicker pace included quadruple executions in 1926 and 1930.
Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station in central Arkansas.
Authorities said Williams abducted and raped two other women in the days before he was arrested in Errickson’s death. Williams admitted responsibility to the state Parole Board last month.
“I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” Williams told the board.
In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state. The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: “I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven’t the right.”
Including Jones and Williams, nine people have been executed in the United States this year, four in Texas, three in Arkansas and one each in Missouri and Virginia. Last year, 20 people were executed, down from 98 in 1999 and the lowest number since 14 in 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.