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April 28, 2017

Arkansas completes fourth execution in a week, but not without apparent problems

As reported in this new NBC News article, the "lawyer of a convicted killer who was put to death by lethal injection Thursday has demanded an investigation after his client repeatedly convulsed during the 'horrifying' execution." Here is more:

Media witnesses reported "coughing, convulsing, lurching, jerking" for a 10 to 20 second period during the execution of Kenneth Williams at the Cummins Unit, where the Arkansas death chamber is housed.

The allegations come amid questions around the use of the controversial lethal injection drug midazolam. The state's stocks of the drug were due to expire and it has been racing to execute a record number of inmates — Williams was the fourth to be executed inside of a week.

"This is the most I've seen an inmate move three or four minutes in," said Associated Press reporter Kelly Kissel, who witnessed his tenth execution Thursday night. Kissel explained that Williams "lurched" 15 times in quick succession, followed by five slower lurches, three minutes after the sedative midazolam was introduced.

Kissel said two other witnesses from local media organizations agreed with his assessment and also said that Williams could be heard after the microphone to the death chamber was turned off. Williams' attorney called for an investigation and called the descriptions "horrifying."

"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," said Shawn Nolan, an attorney who had taken up Williams case two weeks prior to the execution. "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."

State officials pushed back against the allegations that the execution might have been "botched" and allegations it did not follow the protocol. J.R. Davis, spokesman for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, described the lurches as "involuntary muscular reaction to the midazolam." Though he had not witnessed the execution, he said the medical community supported the drug's safe use and that this reaction did not mean the procedure had been painful....

Nolan, called Davis' explanation "trying to whitewash the reality of what happened" and he called for a full investigation. "We tried over and over again to get the state to comport with their own protocol to avoid torturing our client to death, and yet reports from the execution witnesses indicate that Mr. Williams suffered during this execution," Nolan said in a statement.

"Any amount of movement he might've had was far less than any of his victims," said Jodie Efird, one of the victim's daughters who attended the execution. Williams had been serving a life sentence for the Dec. 1998 murder of a University of an Arkansas-Pine Bluff cheerleader. Then 20, the inmate escaped after only serving a month at the Cummins Unit by hiding inside a barrel of pig slop that a garbage truck had removed from the prison grounds. The former gang member shot and killed Cecil Boren, stole his truck, led police on a high-speed pursuit and killed another man, Michael Greenwood, in a resulting car accident. A jury sentenced Williams to death for the 1999 murder of Boren, a 57-year-old former warden of the prison where Williams was executed....

Arkansas Department of Correction Spokesman Solomon Graves said that the lethal injection was administered at 10:52 p.m. local time (11:52 p.m. ET) and Williams was declared dead at 11:05 p.m. Williams, 38, was scheduled to die at 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET). Williams' execution was delayed more than three hours because of attempts by his lawyers before a state court and the U.S. Supreme Court to stop it. Shortly after 10 p.m. the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the execution.

April 28, 2017 at 08:20 AM | Permalink


I completed my commute to work, but not without apparent problems. I completed going to the bathroom, but not without apparent problems. I coughed, jerked, and lurched doing those activities. So, let's ban them.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 28, 2017 9:52:28 AM

Interesting---looks like these people have no clue what the deal is--seems to me that as the midazolam takes effect (i.e., suppresses breathing), a billion years of evolution takes effect, and the body desperately tries to get oxygen, but that doesn't mean that the guy was conscious. There is no indication of when the KCl, which is the thing that would allegedly cause the pain, was administered. If the KCl wasn't administered until after the midazolam (and the vecuronium bromide--I think that's what Arkansas uses) was administered, this seems to be much ado about nothing.

Remember also, a billion years of evolution also has created spinal reactions in humans--the spine controls involuntary movements in reaction to extreme stimuli. Not being able to breathe--hmmmm.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 28, 2017 10:09:47 AM

My heavens, what overly dramatic nonsense. My grandmother, the sweetest woman to ever live and who never killed anyone, spent her final DAYS gasping for air as her body failed her.

Excuse me for not being too concerned about this murderer possibly conscious while trying to catch his breath for 10-20 seconds. Death is grisly and most of us will die in a much more painful manner than Williams did.

Our goal needs to be painless execution but there is no need to clutch our pearls if we do not quite get there every time.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Apr 28, 2017 10:24:44 AM

You da man, Tarls.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 28, 2017 11:48:44 AM

There have been various findings, by experts, that usage of midazolam were problematic, including in past executions. What happened here and in another execution of this quarter where problems were alleged is unclear, Prof. Berman sure to repeatedly use "apparently." federalist also hedges, as is appropriate, since we are just making reasoned assumptions here based on limited reports.

[I saw a reference(see Chris Geidner) that the state, however, said the latest was 'flawless' and there won't be an investigation. Seems ill-advised. You had four executions. Have a full investigation, if anything as Prof. Berman suggests, to help promote the idea that it went fine. I'm sure some will disagree, but everything will be out there, for all sides to examine.]

"Perfection" is not needed here either legally or practicably (nothing is perfect) though the report in that article alone discusses more than a 10-15 second period (unless the 20 lurches, e.g., all took place in that time). It's clear many wouldn't care if a much higher amount of pain was suffered by murderers here. But, there is a constitutional and legal requirement here, and it is helpful some people are specifically concerned about it.

And, they are likely to realistically overcompensate, our system balancing things out by hearing from various voices. Taking everything, not one data point of one incident, into consideration.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 28, 2017 12:05:08 PM

Edit: 10 to 20 seconds

There is a tendency to be affected by botched executions (or claims thereof) and (too) painful/barbaric executions is a core concern of the 8A. So, you can see why people would want to focus on this sort of thing.

The reports on how the drugs were obtained in many of these cases to me very well might be even more troubling on some level as well as the secrecy of the process. This would also go beyond the harm to the executed murderers alone.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 28, 2017 12:13:40 PM

Joe. Please tell the class how the source of the drug, and secrecy involved is in any dispositive to the Eighth Amendment claims that can be made?

Your making these false and stupid arguments is why I repeatedly call you a weasel. You are sneaky, dishonest, and hypocritical. You argue the Eighth Amendment, or whatever Amendment, but the real aim of your demand is to find the pharmacists, and have left wing thugs beat their ass and burn down their places to protect vicious murderers from being executed, and to intimidate any other pharmacist contemplating helping the state carry out its legal duty.

You should accept and confess your inner weasel.

I have come to oppose the death penalty so the entire death penalty appellate bar, both prosecution and defense, is fired. Then, the murderers may be dispatched, Euro style, by suicide or by murder by other inmates, as the guards are nowhere to be found. Then we could have mass eradication of these murderers, at no cost to the government.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 28, 2017 12:36:33 PM

Any of you feminist lawyers or their male running dogs demand Joe be banned because he is posting too many comments?

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 28, 2017 12:41:11 PM

The secrecy part has been addressed on this blog repeatedly, including that post where David (who is hard to take seriously, but just to answer that point) apparently offered me a job -- doing things out in the open is important to show the law is truly being followed, including the means used to execute meets requirements.

The source of the drug also factors in there & proper regulation there is a norm for drug regulation generally. Prof. Corinna Lain over at PrawfsBlawg and in her writings talked about this and other issues. I'm concerned about drug regulation, including drugs used to kill people, generally, beyond specific constitutional demands.

I'm not sure what my spirit animal is. Don't think it's a weasel.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 28, 2017 12:50:37 PM

Joe is not calling you or anyone else a weasel, David. You continue to fail to understand how your vitriol serves to undercut the merits of whatever substantive point you wish to deliver. And that is why I field more complaints about you than about all other commenters combined.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 28, 2017 12:55:06 PM

The problem, Joe, is the press--all they do is report "both" sides--instead of asking the germane question, i.e., whether the movement happened before or after the KCl. Seems to me that, from a clinical standpoint, a dose enough to knock out a horse of midazolam and a dose enough to kill a horse of vecuronium bromide will knock the guy out prior to the KCl, which is what causes the possibility of so-called unconstitutional pain.

And if I were the state, I would say FU to an investigation also.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 28, 2017 2:32:35 PM

Doug. Please find a better word for someone using pre-textual legal argument to find a pharmacy, knowing it will be sued, threatened, and burned down. The certainty of such an effect is that of planetary orbits. Does the sun rise in the East? The pharmacies will be attacked by lawyers and then by thugs, and destroyed.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 28, 2017 2:41:04 PM

Fed is correct. Do not believe me. Anyone who has had anesthesia, has experienced not reaching the number 3 in a count, then waking up in recovery. One is "gone" in a second. The doses of an execution are 10 times greater than are used for operative anesthesia, where the body is cut open, broken bones are pulled apart and reset. Holes are drilled, and screws are screwed in, skin is cut off and restapled together.

The complaints are not ridiculous. They are pre-textual and false. The lawyer complaining is trying to fool a tribunal, and deserves investigation by the Disciplinary Counsel for claiming pain is taking place.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 28, 2017 3:12:24 PM

Joe, as an opponent of secrecy and as a fan of transparency, please publish your full name, home address, cell phone number, where you work, and a copy of your 2016 tax return. I think transparency fans should all do that. All those demanding the tax return of Donald Trump, all those who opposed the Birther movement, should publish their tax returns to the internet, on Facebook. Demands for transparency have the legitimacy and the same purpose as the Birthers demanding the Kenyan birth certificate of Obama. The sole purpose is to use such information for vicious personal attack, and to evade the substantive policy debate on the facts and on logic or utility. Joe, I am converted to your viewpoint, transparency, now publish your 2016 tax return. Be transparent.

As a disclosure, what I really want to do is to send released criminals to the houses surrounding yours. My request is pre-textual, because I know full well, you will soon become a victim of a serious crime if I do that. And that would be the real reason I am requesting this information from a stranger.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 28, 2017 3:22:07 PM

Past examination of the executions here point to various aspects that need to be done properly. The people with expertise there can examine the germane issues. The press, in short bursts, allegedly not reporting things in a good way shouldn't change basic good policy of open oversight here. Killing four people would be a good point to do it.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 28, 2017 3:38:28 PM

It wouldn't even surprise me if the actions took place prior to the actual administration of the midazolam as some form of malingering.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Apr 28, 2017 4:22:55 PM

A tangentially related point:

"A North Carolina state prison officer died Wednesday after being assaulted by an inmate.

Sgt. Megan Lee Callahan, 29, of Edenton, was attacked around 5:30 p.m. at Bertie Correctional Institute, and died about 6:20 p.m., officials said.

Authorities are investigating Craig Wissink in connection with her death, officials said. Wissink has been in prison for more than a decade after being convicted of first-degree murder in Cumberland County and sentenced to life in prison."


Here are the details of Wissink's previous murder:

"The evidence at trial tended to show that around 10:00 p.m. on 27 June 2000, two individuals knocked on the door of a trailer belonging to Jonathan Pruey (Pruey).   As Pruey approached the door, the individuals opened the door from outside.   Pruey and his roommate, Corrie Cordier (Cordier), attempted to close the door.   One of the individuals, who was wearing a Halloween hockey mask, fell in through the door.   Cordier “stomped down” on the individual's face and Pruey slammed the door shut, bracing himself against it.   A few seconds later, Cordier heard a loud noise, a moan, someone stumbling in the living room, and then the sound of someone hitting the floor.   Pruey's wife and another roommate turned on the lights and saw Pruey lying on his back on the kitchen floor.   Pruey was losing a large amount of blood from his chest and mouth." http://caselaw.findlaw.com/nc-court-of-appeals/1485812.html

Just curious. Does anyone know how long the chests of Jonathan Pruey and Sgt. Callahan heaved before they died?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Apr 28, 2017 6:30:39 PM

Tarls. Humanity is a totally foreign language to the reptiles here.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 28, 2017 8:55:24 PM

Buzzfeed reports: "On Friday, inmates successfully sought a court order that the state conduct an autopsy of Kenneth Williams and preserve certain blood and tissue samples in relation to ongoing litigation into the state's execution methods. The state opposed the request, saying nothing had gone wrong during the execution, but US District Judge Kristine Baker "found that plaintiffs have demonstrated that the blood and tissue samples are relevant to and in controversy in this action," ordering the collection."

See also, Associated Press, which also noted that the lawyers of Williams want a full investigation; the state reports it will only do a routine review.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 29, 2017 5:06:41 PM

We've seen the blood stuff before---remember the BS Lancet Study over how much sedative was in the bloodstream? Turned out the stuff degraded post-mortem. Breyer actually cited that in Baze v. Rees (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha).

The judge's order is routine, although I don't know that she gets to tell the state to pay for it.

I'm just curious why people take the press nonsense at face value--if the stuff is used for surgery, then if the movements stop before the KCl, then . . . .

And there's a billion years of evolution that tries to hold onto life. Doesn't mean the guy was sensate, and all evidence suggest he was not.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 30, 2017 1:12:41 PM

Assessment of pain in the non-verbal patient, or even in the unconscious patient. There are validated scales, which may be used.


Here is a pain scale for unconscious patients, with 4 items. Executioner may fill it in 30 seconds. Best would be to record the face and body of the executed, and allow others to judge for themselves. It should not be made public, since it may reinforce murder for public attention.


Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 1:14:18 PM

I am looking into ethics charges against Nolan, for making a false report to a government official, and against Judge Kristine Baker for a self dealing judgement.

Thanks, Joe. Good report.

Posted by: David Behar | Apr 30, 2017 1:25:57 PM

I take press articles, including the ones Mr. F. links at times, with a grain of salt.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 30, 2017 2:35:42 PM

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