KUAR’s Michael Hibblen has been checking in on the two-week hearing in federal court in a challenge to Arkansas’s use of the sedative midazolam as part of a three-drug execution procedure.


The lawsuit on behalf of condemned inmates challenges the process as causing unconstitutional suffering.  Wednesday, Craig W. Stevens, a professor of pharmacology in Oklahoma testified that midazolam did not serve as an anesthetic.

“For a certain, it’s going to cause severe pain because midazolam does not produce anesthesia,” Stevens testified. He explained that there is a “ceiling effect” for benzodiazepines, which is the class of drugs midazolam falls into, meaning that increasing the dose won’t have an increased effect.

“Even at massive doses, persons still respond to noxious stimulus,” which is a tissue damaging event. “There will be pain and suffering masked by the paralytic,” Stevens said.

The state challenged Stevens and other witnesses, including Jacob Rosenberg, who covered an execution for the Arkansas Times. and now works for Mother Jones.


Former Arkansas Times reporter Jacob Rosenberg, who today works for Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco, testified via video about what he witnessed when the curtain opened for witnesses in the death chamber at Williams’ execution. Williams didn’t have any last words, so Rosenberg said the lethal injection process began.

“At the time he was breathing heavily with [his] chest lifting off of the gurney and his back arching in order to do so. And his eyes began to slowly droop, though one sort of stayed open throughout this process, and his heavy breathing and arching sort of continued throughout this time,” Rosenberg said.

Asked by defense attorney Julie Vandiver why he couldn’t count how many times his back arched off the gurney, Rosenberg said, “It became too many times for me to count.”

Under cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General Ka Tina Guest, Rosenberg acknowledged that it was difficult to tell if Williams suffered any pain.

The challenge is part of the many incremental ways opponents of the death penalty slow a process that is so broken and so unevenly applied — with no means of reversing mistakes — that most of the civilized world has abandoned it. Arkansas is not so inclined.

More of Hibblen’s earlier reporting here.