| April 28
April 28 A lawyer for an executed Arkansas death
row inmate asked the state on Friday to investigate why his
client coughed and convulsed on a death chamber gurney, saying a
lethal injection drug may have been the cause.
Kenneth Williams was the fourth inmate put to death in eight
days in the state, which before April had not carried out an
execution in 12 years. Accounts of his execution on Thursday
night raised fresh concerns about whether the sedative
midazolam, a Valium-like drug, is effective in lethal injection
Witnesses said Williams, who admitted to killing four
people, jerked and gasped for air for about 30 seconds a few
minutes after his execution began. The state said it was a
routine execution lasting about 15 minutes, but critics said
something was amiss.
"It is not a normal reaction to therapeutic doses of
midazolam," said Jonathan Groner, a professor of surgery at the
Ohio State University College of Medicine who has testified
against the drug's use in executions.
"Was the drug doing what the state intended it to do or was
the person being chemically waterboarded on the way to being
killed?" he asked in an interview when talking about execution
Shawn Nolan, a lawyer for Williams, and the American Civil
Liberties Union on Friday asked Arkansas to investigate.
"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," Nolan said in a statement.
Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who set the
hurried execution schedule because the state's supply of
midazolam expires at the end of April, told reporters on Friday
there was no need for an investigation and all the executions
this month were carried out within the state's protocols.
The United Nations' human rights office voiced deep concern
on Friday, saying the state's rush to carry out the executions
before a drug expired added to the "arbitrariness and cruelty"
of the process.
Midazolam is supposed to render an inmate unconscious. But
critics contend it has failed to render inmates insensate in
some cases, leaving them to feel the effects of the two other
drugs in the execution mix, a paralytic that halts breathing and
another drug that stops the heart while causing an excruciating
Death penalty states once used an anesthetic in their mixes
until major pharmaceutical companies began a sales ban about six
years ago to prison systems due to ethical concerns.
In response, several states turned to new mixes that
included midazolam. The drug was used in troubled executions in
Oklahoma and Arizona where witnesses said inmates twisted in
pain on death chamber gurneys.
Death penalty supporters have said some pain in executions
is warranted given the brutality of the murders the condemned
typically commit and the harm they have inflicted on victim's
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam
in a case brought by Oklahoma death row inmates, saying the
inmates failed to show there was an available alternative method
of execution that would be less painful.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Steve
Barnes in Grady, Arkansas and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva;
Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)