Lawyers for Kenneth Williams filed a new lawsuit this morning in Pulaski Circuit Court claiming that his execution tonight would cause unconstitutional cruel or unusual punishment.

The complaint contends recent executions provided “new and compelling evidence” that the lethal injection process could cause problems for people with serious medical conditions. The complaint said Williams’ situation is complicated by sickle cell trait, Lupus and organic brain damage. From the complaint:

In Monday’s execution of Marcel Williams, for example, the State was unable to determine whether he was unconscious; his body movements – including grimacing, arching his back, and moving his eyes, coughing, and turning his head – continued well after the consciousness check and apparently until the paralytic was
administered; and steps set forth in the protocol were not followed. As a result, he was tortured to death, as Plaintiff can prove at a hearing, but his excruciating pain and suffering were masked from witnesses by operation of the paralytic drug.

Here I’d like to inject my observation on executions to date as a news consumer. To channel Donald Rumsfeld: We don’t know what we don’t know. I’ve been shocked by journalists who offered seemingly assured opinions about a lack of suffering by the condemned and also a medical examiner quoted to that same effect (though I think the headline in that case may have overstated what the doctor said.) We know this much for sure: the executions were “successful.” They caused death. But they also produced some outward physical signs in at least one case — arching of back, open eye, lip movement — that gave cause to wonder if the sedative midazolam worked as anticipated, whether the paralytic drug merely quelled outward signs of consciousness and whether the killing drug burned as it does without sufficient anesthesia. Only one person in each case knows for sure. And they aren’t talking any longer. Any sounds that attended three killings so far, by the way, were not known to witnesses because they were in a separate room, viewing through glass, and the microphone in the killing chamber was turned off.

The pleading today quotes from Jacob Rosenberg’s observations for the Arkansas Times of the execution of Marcel Williams. I recommend it for a straightforward account.


The case was assigned to Judge Mackie Pierce.

PS: KARK’s Jessie Turnure has posted on Twitter some words written by Kenneth Williams about being on death watch. Excerpt:


Some words between the departed and those who remain need not even be spoken. For every one on the row knows, not if but when your number is up; others will be staring long faced out the window at you, soon to see your body on the news in the back of a hearse being escorted away.

Williams’ lawyers have argued in other pleadings that his low IQ — 70 by one measure — should spare him from execution. The state has argued that other evidence indicates Williams isn’t intellectually disabled as claimed.

UPDATE: Pierce filed a brief written order shortly after 4 p.m. denying the petition. By then, the attorney general had already announced state Supreme Court denial of a stay of execution so the circuit court could consider the claim.