The death penalty fight goes on | Arkansas Blog

The death penalty fight goes on


The organized group working against the death penalty in Arkansas and elsewhere continues its campaign today with more statements from a public relations effort that has been busy since the beginning of Arkansas's planned burst of state killings.

Cassandra Belter, an attorney for Kenneth Williams, was present for his execution Thursday night and she's prepared a detailed "declaration" of what she observed. She notes convulsions, "gasping for air," other movement and an "audible groan of pain, " She was standing near the gurney in the witness room. Her descriptions include observations of continued movement after consciousness checks had begun.

She stops short of asserting that Williams suffered during the process, though she characterizes some reactions as similar to those that might indicate pain. This is in contrast to death penalty supporters, such as Republican state Sen. Trent Garner, a witness who expressed certainty that the execution was "not cruel, botched or torture."

A news release from a spokesman for the team working against the death penalty also said
Dr. David Waisel, associate professor of anesthesiology at Harvard University, "has substantial concerns about the timing of the movement of Mr. Williams and the administration of the paralytic." He had said previously that midazolam is a sedative that does not have pain-blocking properties.

The matters are precisely those the defense hopes to explore in preserving blood and tissue in an autopsy of Williams. Federal Judge Karen Baker Friday afternoon ordered the state to perform an autopsy and preserve evidence sought by Williams' lawyers. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had objected to the request. A spokesman for the attorney general said that order is not appealable.

The evidence-gathering comes in the case in which plaintiffs included four men who were scheduled to die between April 17 and 27, but got stays of execution. The state's supply of the controversial sedative midazolam expires this month. If and when anew execution dates are set for those four and the 25 others on Death Row, the debate over the three-drug lethal injection process will continue. Under study, too, should be the secretive and illicit means by which the state obtained drugs from questionable suppliers. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Judge Baker's earlier finding that enough evidence existed to prevent use of the three-drug procedure and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that narrowly, 5-4. But a three-judge panel on an appeals court in Ohio also stopped the procedure and a hearing by the entire court in that district seems likely to add the Arkansas experience to the evidence it considers.

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