Death Penalty

Arkansas carries out double execution after courts deny stay requests

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Updated: Arkansas executed two inmates on Monday evening after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grants stays.

Arkansas executed Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, report the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Associated Press and the Arkansas Times. A double execution in the United States was last carried out more than 16 years ago, the Associated Press reported in earlier stories here and here.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant stays here (PDF) and here (PDF). She cited her dissent (PDF) in another Arkansas case in which she asserted that a federal appeals court “erroneously swept aside” a federal judge’s findings that the execution sedative midazolam creates a substantial risk of severe pain.

A federal judge temporarily stayed Williams’ execution Monday evening after the state admitted having trouble inserting an IV line into the neck of the first inmate, Jones. Lawyers also had claimed that Jones was moving his lips and gulping for air during the execution, an assertion denied by the state. An AP reporter said Jones moved his lips briefly after midazolam was administered and a tongue depressor was placed in his mouth.

The media was not allowed to observe the execution until after the IV line was places in Jones’ neck. Lawyers disagreed over how long it took to insert the IV line into Jones, according to the Guardian.

The inmates claimed in advance of the executions that they could experience extreme pain during the procedure because of their poor health. Jones had asserted before the execution that he faced “tortuous death” because of diabetes, high blood pressure and neuropathy. Williams had asserted that his 400-pound weight would make it difficult for executioners to find a vein for the lethal injection, a claim that was again made after Jones’ executioners had trouble finding a vein.

Several courts considered and rejected stay requests. On Friday a federal judge refused a stay based on the health concerns. Another federal judge denied a stay on Sunday, and a third judge on Sunday refused to change the rules that govern execution witnesses.

On Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court and the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also denied stays, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.

Arkansas executed a third inmate, Ledell Lee, last Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay request. The court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, was in the five-justice majority that voted to deny the stay.

Courts have stayed the executions of four of the eight inmates Arkansas had hoped to execute this month before its execution sedative midazolam reaches its expiration date.

The fourth inmate, Kenneth Williams, is scheduled for execution on Thursday.

ABA President Linda Klein had asked Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to delay the April executions. Klein expressed concern in a letter that the execution schedule “prioritizes expediency above due process.”

Updated at 4 p.m. to include information on stay denials by the 8th Circuit and state supreme court. Updated April 25 to report on the executions and last-minute legal decisions.

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