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Kenneth Williams, 38, is scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. tonight at the Cummins Unit near Grady. If a court does not stop the execution, he will be the fourth death row prisoner to die over the last eight days in Arkansas. Governor Hutchinson originally scheduled eight men to be executed over 11 days, but courts blocked the state from killing four of them. Hutchinson set the compressed schedule because one of the drugs used in the state’s execution protocol, midazolam, will expire at the end of the month.
Williams was sentenced to death in 2000 for the Oct. 3, 1999, murder of farmer Cecil Boren, 57, of Grady. Williams shot Boren seven times after escaping — only 19 days into his sentence of life without parole — from Cummins, where Williams was being held for the December 1998 kidnapping and murder of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique “Nikki” Hurd, 19. After stealing Boren’s truck, Williams fled to Missouri, where he was captured after a high-speed chase that ended in a crash that killed truck driver Michael Greenwood, 24, of Springfield. In a June 2005 letter to the Pine Bluff Commercial newspaper, Williams admitted to also killing Jerrell Jenkins, 36, of Pine Bluff the same day he killed Hurd and attempted to kill her friend.
The Marshall Project published an excerpt of some of Williams’ thoughts leading up to his execution:
When you’re issued a date, you want to be the first to break the news to your family. But often the press gets to them first. For the prisoner, as the fatal day approaches, the hardest part is knowing you’ve condemned your loved ones to a bitter fate. Once you depart, they have to carry on.
It is vital that I reach a place of self-forgiveness, so that I can write to my 21-year-old daughter and break the news to her. I could soon be joining her mother in the afterlife, leaving her parentless. Just writing that letter is enough to make me consider beating the executioner to the punch, but I’ve been stabilized and sustained by the inner peace and forgiveness I’ve received through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
An officer showed up at my cell door today and asked, “Kenneth, how are you?” Then he asked, “What is your shirt and pant size? What size shoe do you wear? How tall are you? How much do you weigh?”
Talk about the lamb being sized up before the slaughter. I thought: Have they forgotten I am human, or do they just not care? Then I thought: Wasn’t it my disregard for human life that got me in this situation to begin with?
The family of Michael Greenwood, the delivery driver who was killed by Williams in a car crash, arranged for Williams’ daughter Jasmine Jordan and granddaughter to travel to see Williams. Now, Greenwood’s daughter and widow have petitioned Governor Hutchinson to grant Williams executive clemency.
A number of petitions in state and federal court remain at play.
3:05 p.m.: The attorney general’s office reports that the Arkansas Supreme Court has denied two motions for stay. No other appeals are before the court. One argued that Williams’ medical conditions, including sickle cell trait, Lupus and organic brain damage, would lead to complications in an execution and constitute cruel and inhumane punishment.
3:30 p.m.: Williams’ has three petitions before the U.S. Supreme Court that contend he’s ineligible for the death penalty because he’s intellectually disabled. From the filings:
“Kenneth Williams is innocent of the death penalty; he is intellectually disabled and thus categorically ineligible to be put to death. He comes before this Court with three petitions, not because a lower tribunal disagreed that he is innocent of death, but because no court has agreed to hear the merits of his claim. The first, the instant petition, raises the state court’s failure to provide a post-conviction forum to prove his innocence. The second raises his inability to persuade the federal courts to hear his claim on habeas corpus. The third invokes the extraordinary jurisdiction of this Court because the first two traditional avenues for relief have been foreclosed.”
4:13 p.m. Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce in a brief order dismissed the complaint Williams filed earlier in the day to be heard on arguments about his mental capacity and other issues. By then, the Supreme Court had already denied stays of execution sought on emergency basis so that the circuit court could consider the case. Pierce wrote:
After careful review of the Complaint for Declaratory and Equitable Relief filed this April 27,2017, as well as the supporting affidavits and exhibits, this court finds the Complaint should be and is hereby denied and dismissed.
5:12 p.m. The attorney general’s office announced the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denial of several pending appeals in Williams’ case.
The 8th Circuit said some claims were merely reiterations of arguments denied previously, including over juror bias, which the court noted Williams had waited a number of years to pursue. It also said his claim of intellectual disability today had no bearing on the conditions that determined his culpability in the crime.
Judge Jane Kelly dissented in part. She said Williams deserved an evidentiary hearing on whether he’d had an impartial jury. She also said he shouldn’t be denied presenting evidence about his mental capablity under a rule that prevents repeat petitions for habeas corpus. But, she concluded:
Unfortunately, because Williams has not shown a likelihood of success on his claims, I reluctantly must concur in the denial of the motions for stay.
At 5:30 p.m., it appears the U.S. Supreme Court is all that remains.
5:36 p.m.: Jacob Rosenberg, reporting from the Cummins Unit for the Times, says that Williams last meal was communion.
Earlier, between 3 and 4 p.m., he ate two pieces of fried chicken, barbecue beans, sweet rice, whole kernel corn, stewed tomatoes, two cinnamon rolls, two cookies, four slices of bread and fruit punch.
5:45 p.m.: The attorney general’s office reports on a response it filed in an amended motion for an injunction to U.S. District Judge Price Marshall. Williams’ filing argues that, by not making the family of Michael Greenwood, who was killed by Williams in a car crash, aware of Williams’ clemency hearing, the notice requirements of Arkansas’s clemency law were violated. Marshall had earlier ruled that the state’s process was “shoddy,” but said death row inmates couldn’t show how the state violating the law made a difference. Today, Greenwood’s daughter said her family was not aware of the clemency hearing. Had they been, Kayla Greenwood said her family would have attended and testified that they did not want Williams to be executed. Williams says his due process was violated.
6:05 p.m.: The media witnesses have been chosen. They are Kelly Kissel of the Associated Press, Knowles Adkisson of the Pine Bluff Commercial and Donna Terrell of Fox 16.
6:40 p.m.: J.R. Davis, spokesman for the governor, announces that things are “holding until we hear from the U.S. Supreme Court” and that “there’s no specific timeline at this point.” No official stay is in place. Davis says this is a courtesy for SCOTUS.
From Buzzfeed’s Supreme Court correspondent:
This makes sense, and likely is the result of the state's growing awareness with the process for executions. Other states do this regularly.
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) April 27, 2017
6:43 p.m.: Federal Judge Price Marshall denies Williams’ motion for a temporary injunction.
6:45 p.m.: David Koon, from the barricade outside Cummins, sends this dispatch:
J.C. Kirkland, who is standing in the area cordoned off for those in favor of the death penalty, says he’s here in the place of a sick friend whose daughter was threatened by Kenneth Williams in a phone call made soon after Williams escaped.
A death penalty supporter, Kirkland said of murder: “If you commit that crime, you should pay. If I get out and do a senseless killing, I should pay.” Kirkland said he was a religious man, a lifelong Baptist. Asked if he believes Williams, who claims to have found Jesus in prison, would go to heaven if Williams dies tonight, Kirkland said that’s up to God, but added: “As ye sow, shall ye reap. That’s the bottom line to it.”
7:24 p.m.: Times photographer Brian Chilson sends along this shot of the State Police barrier between the pro death penalty crowd and the anti. He says there are two people in the pro section.
From David Koon:
Talked to Deitrich Williams earlier, Dominique Hurd’s brother. He was 7 years old when his sister was killed. He’s 25 now. Williams confirmed that when Williams was sentenced to life in prison for Hurd’s murder, he turned to Hurd’s parents and mocked them, saying that he knew they thought he would get the death penalty.
Williams said he’s thought about what he’d say to Kenneth Williams if he could speak to him and thought of writing a letter, but said he wanted to keep what he would have said to himself. He said he thought of trying to be an execution witness, but didn’t know the process to do so.
Asked if Kenneth Williams execution will bring him any peace, Williams said, “Will it bring me peace? No comment.”
9:55: J.R. Davis says the governor and attorney general are going to speak at 10 p.m. to discuss next steps. As of now, they will “hope for a decision within the hour.” There’s no specific deadline on how long the state will wait on the SCOTUS. Davis said they would “cross that bridge when they come to it.” Kenneth Williams is still waiting near the death chamber with his council.
10:11 p.m.: Media witnesses have been gathered to head to the execution viewing room.
10:13 p.m.: The SCOTUS has denied all motions to stay the execution.
10:50 p.m. The lethal injection process has yet to begin. “Preparations are still ongoing,” according to ADC spokesperson Solomon Graves.
10:52 p.m.: Lethal injection begins.
11:05 p.m.: Kenneth Williams’ time of death. Graves says that Williams “did shake for approximately 10 seconds” three minutes into the execution.
11:12 p.m.: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has issued a statement:
“Tonight the rule of law was upheld as the family of Cecil Boren saw justice done. On October 3, 1999, Cecil was simply going about his daily life at his home near the Cummins Prison Unit when he was shot and killed by an escapee who was serving life imprisonment without parole for capital murder. I pray this lawful execution will bring closure and peace to the Boren family.”
11:13 p.m.: Governor Hutchinson has issued a statement:
“The long path of justice ended tonight and Arkansans can reflect on the last two weeks with confidence that our system of laws in this state has worked. Carrying out the penalty of the jury in the Kenneth Williams case was necessary. There has never been a question of guilt.
In 1999, Williams was serving a life sentence for the murder of 19-year-old Nikki Hurd when he escaped and proceeded to kill again: 57-year-old Cecil Boren, a grandfather and husband to Genie, and a Missouri man, 24-year-old Michael Greenwood. Williams would later confess to the unsolved murder of 36-year-old Jerrell Jenkins, a father and stepfather.
In the last seven days, after decades of waiting, the families of Debra Reese, Christine Lewis, Mary Phillips, Lorraine Anne Barrett, Stacy Errickson, Nikki Hurd, Jerrell Jenkins and Cecil Boren were finally provided the justice they were promised and they also saw that our system of laws have meaning.”
Note that he doesn’t mention the family of Greenwood in the last paragraph. They had petitioned the governor to stop the execution.
Williams read his last words:
“I humbly extend my sincerest of apologies to the families I have senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones. The families of Dominique Hurd, Jerrell Jenkins, Cecil Boren, Michael Greenwood. I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all were senseless, extremely hurtful and inexcusable. I humbly beg your forgiveness and pray you find the peace, healing and closure you all deserve. To Kayla Greenwood and the whole Greenwood family, the acts of grace, forgiveness and mercy you demonstrated to the person who had taken so much from you by bringing to me in prison my own baby and grandchild right before my scheduled execution, no rapist, murderer, terrorist, butcher, barbarian, not even old Beelzebub himself could withstand such a blast of glorious light and continue to walk in darkness.” — Signed, Minister Kenneth D. Williams, Arkansas Death Row preacher.
Then he said the following:
“I am not the same person I was. I have been transformed. Some things can’t be undone. I seek forgiveness. The next words will be spoken in my native language.” He then spoke in tongues.
Kelly Kissel of the Associated Press, who was a witness, tells the other media gathered at Cummins, Williams was, “coughing, convulsing, lurching, jerking, with sound” audible through glass for more than 20 seconds. “He was clearly trying to draw in air,” Kissel says.