In Multipolarity

Introduction by New Cold On April 27, Kenneth Williams became the fourth Arkansas prison inmate to be executed in eight days. Arkansas planned eight executions over an 11-day period, the most ambitious schedule since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but courts have issued stays for four of the inmates. The four lethal injections that were carried out included a double execution on April 24, the first in the U.S. since 2000. So far in 2017, there have been 10 executions in the United States. There were 20 in 2016. In Russia and Ukraine, the prisoner executions have been banned for several decades.

Report by Associated Press, Apr 28, 2017

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas’ governor said on April 28 that he sees no reason for anything beyond a routine review of the state’s execution procedures after a condemned inmate lurched and convulsed 20 times during a lethal injection that involved a controversial sedative. Attorneys for Kenneth Williams called for a full investigation after Williams became the fourth convicted killer executed in Arkansas in eight days as the state sought to carry out as many lethal injections as possible before its supply of midazolam expires.

“I think it’s totally unjustified,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters when asked about the possibility of an independent probe. “You don’t call for an independent investigation unless there’s some reason for it. Last night, one of the goals was there not be any indications of pain by the inmate, and that’s what I believe is the case.”

A federal judge on Friday granted a request from Williams’ attorneys to preserve evidence from the dead inmate’s body, ordering the state to collect blood and tissue samples as well as request an autopsy from the state medical examiner.

Hutchinson said Williams’ execution will be reviewed by the Department of Correction, which is typical any time an inmate is put to death. He said a written report would not be issued.

The governor said he does not think Arkansas needs to change its execution protocol, citing court rulings that have upheld the use of midazolam, which has also been used in flawed executions in other states. But he has not ordered prison officials to find a replacement for Arkansas’ supply of the drug, which expires Sunday. An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said that about three minutes in, Williams’ body jerked 15 times in quick succession, lurching violently against the leather restraint across his chest. Then the rate slowed for a final five movements. Hutchinson said Arkansas Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley described Williams’ movement as “coughing without noise,” though media witnesses described hearing sounds from the inmate.

Williams’ attorneys released a statement calling the witness accounts “horrifying.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas also called for an investigation, arguing that the state may have violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. In a statement Friday, the organization’s executive director, Rita Sklar, said the governor had “ignored the dangers … all to beat the expiration date on a failed drug.”

Arkansas planned eight executions over an 11-day period, the most ambitious schedule since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. But courts issued stays for four of the inmates. The four lethal injections that were carried out included Monday’s [April 24] first double execution in the U.S. since 2000.

Williams read a prepared final statement and also spoke in tongues, the unintelligible speech used in some religions. But his prayer faded off as the midazolam took effect.

The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched, and his face remained what one media witness called “serene.” After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned once — during a consciousness check — until falling still seven minutes after the lethal injection.

In a log of Williams’ final hours that the state filed in federal court Friday, prison officials said it took 17 minutes to connect the inmate’s IV lines. The log said Williams’ hands remained relaxed and he did not grimace or show distress on his face during the movement. The state’s court filing also included affidavits from two witnesses who said they did not see any signs of pain or suffering. “I saw an efficient, effective execution process,” state Sen. Trent Garner said.

Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than three weeks into a life term for the death of a college cheerleader.

A doctor who has been described by inmates’ attorneys as an expert on the potential dangers of midazolam said Williams’ movements raised concerns. “It was either a seizure that was predictable based upon Mr. Williams’ co-existing medical conditions or partial paralysis in an execution where the protocol itself was not followed,” said Dr. Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University. “Or, more to the point, even if the protocol was followed, the protocol was fundamentally flawed.”

Williams’ lawyers had said he had sickle-cell trait, lupus and brain damage, and argued that the combined maladies could subject him to an exceptionally painful execution in violation of the Constitution.

The state argued in a court filing Friday that there’s no proof that Williams suffered. “The drugs worked as intended and planned,” the court filing said.

Some concerns had been raised about Monday’s execution of Jack Jones, whose mouth moved after attorneys said he should have been unconscious, though a federal judge determined it did not appear to be “torturous and inhumane.”

All of the Arkansas inmates — including Williams — died within 20 minutes, a contrast from troubled midazolam-related executions in other states that took from 43 minutes to two hours. Witnesses to those lengthier executions also described hearing inmates breathe heavily, snore or snort or seeing them struggle against their restraints.

Related stories:
China, Iran, Saudi Arabia executed most people in 2016, reports Amnesty Int’l, Al Jazeera, April 10, 2017

The number of executions worldwide dropped by 37 percent in 2016 compared with the year before, mainly because Iran hanged fewer people, Amnesty International said in its 2016 global review of the death penalty published on april 10.

China executed more people than all other countries in the world put together, Amnesty said. But it is difficult to get a clear number as Beijing classifies most information related to the death penalty as “state secrets”. It is estimated to be in the thousands each year…

For the first time in a decade the US was not one of the five biggest executioners, giving hope to human rights activists. Still 20 people were put to death there, mostly by lethal injection. Another 2,832 people are still on death row in the US. …

The death penalty in 2016: Facts and figures, by Amnesty International, April 11, 2017

Global figures:

At least 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries in 2016. In 2015, Amnesty International recorded 1,634 executions in 25 countries worldwide – a historical spike unmatched since 1989.

Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan – in that order. China remained the world’s top executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is considered a state secret; the global figure of at least 1,032 excludes the thousands of executions believed to have been carried out in China.

Excluding China, 87% of all executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

For the first time since 2006, the U.S. was not one of the five biggest executioners, falling to seventh behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the U.S. were the lowest number in the country since 1991.

During 2016, 23 countries, about one in eight of all countries worldwide, are known to have carried out executions. This number has decreased significantly from twenty years ago (40 countries carried out executions in 1997). Belarus, Botswana, Nigeria and authorities within the State of Palestine resumed executions in 2016; Chad, India, Jordan, Oman and United Arab Emirates –all countries that executed people in 2015 − did not report any executions last year.

141 countries worldwide, more than two-thirds, are abolitionist in law or practice…

Amnesty International recorded 3,117 death sentences in 55 countries in 2016, a significant increase on the total for 2015 (1,998 sentences in 61 countries). Significant increases were recorded in 12 countries, but for some, such as Thailand, the increase is due to the fact that the authorities provided Amnesty International with detailed information…


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