Death in Arkansas: The botched execution of Kenneth Williams and the fallout, or lack of it | Arkansas Blog

Death in Arkansas: The botched execution of Kenneth Williams and the fallout, or lack of it

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Liliana Segura writes in-depth at The Intercept
on Arkansas's execution of Kenneth Williams, whose outward signs of distress signaled another botched administration of killing drugs including the controversial sedative midazolam.

The account touches along the way the barbaric practices in Arkansas prisons of yore, racism, the outcry over Judge Wendell Griffen's participation in a Good Friday crucifixion reenactment shortly before the scheduled execution and other familiar Arkansas news events. Despite Williams' gruesome last moments, the matter seems largely forgotten, Segura writes.


Gov. Asa Hutchinson dismissed calls for an investigation. “My goal was to make sure that we had justice in Arkansas in a way that reflected well on the state,” he said the next day, “and I think that was accomplished.”

In reality, the apparently botched execution was the culmination of an ugly ordeal that had put Arkansas at the center of international controversy for weeks. Hutchinson had originally scheduled execution dates for eight men to take place over 11 days last spring, in a rush to use drugs set to expire at the end of April. The plan sparked chaos, with defense attorneys scrambling to write clemency petitions, state lawyers beating back legal challenges, and prison staff preparing to try out a questionable sedative, midazolam, never previously used in Arkansas. The drug has been linked to several executions gone awry, and many observers warned something was bound to go wrong. Of the four executions that proceeded, Williams’s fulfilled the worst predictions. One attorney called it “horrifying.”

Yet there has been no reckoning; no meaningful look at how the drugs were administered or whether Williams was tortured to death. Shielded by the state’s secrecy law, there has been no sanction for state officials who were willing to buy drugs by any means necessary, including by misleading drug manufacturers who did not wish their products to be used to kill. In fact, just this week Arkansas was poised to execute another man, Jack Gordon Greene, until his execution was stayed by the Arkansas Supreme Court over concerns about his severe mental illness.

Today, the only public official held accountable for any potential misconduct during the state’s execution spree is a man who stood briefly in the way. Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order after a pharmaceutical corporation sued the Arkansas Department of Correction, charging officials with buying drugs under false pretenses and then refusing to return them. That same day, Griffen, a Baptist minister, took part in a dramatic Good Friday protest outside the governor’s mansion, playing the condemned in a mock execution. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge cried foul – and the consequences were swift: The Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a disciplinary review and announced it would reassign all of Griffen’s death penalty cases. In a special session, state legislators voted to implement rules that would allow for his impeachment.

Griffen defended himself, citing his First Amendment rights. But his fight with what he calls Arkansas’s “white power structure” has exposed a deeper divide. “In the history of Arkansas, no white member of the Arkansas judiciary has ever been summarily banned from hearing an entire category of cases based on his or her exercise of the First Amendment protected freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, religion, and exercise of religion,” Griffen argues in a lawsuit filed against the Arkansas Supreme Court last month. He cites “multiple white judges in Arkansas who admitted to engaging in criminal behavior have been treated more favorably.”

The events do not "reflect well" on the state, as Hutchinson had hoped. That probably explains why one of the most injudicious members of the General Assembly, Sen. Trent Garner, found little to like about the story.


Garner is a Trumpite. Inconvenient and unflattering facts about your tribe are fake news. He provides no specifics on bias and half-truths. (He was accurately quoted, by the way, about his unhappiness at a recent stay of execution. The problem seems to be that he didn't get the publicity he so desperately craves by being named.)


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