Update on Arkansas executions: April 24

by Kristen Whitney Daniels

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Editor's Note: Arkansas planned to execute eight people between April 17 and April 27, an unprecedented number of executions by one state in so few days. This set off a flurry of legal proceedings and special appeals, some of which worked in the inmates' favor. Due to the fluid nature of the situation, NCR will be providing a daily round up of the top news.

For previous coverage and background of the situation in Arkansas: Eight Arkansas executions, scheduled for late April, have opposition mobilizing (April 4, 2017); Friday’s update (April 21, 2017)

Double execution scheduled for tonight

Jack Jones and Marcel Williams are scheduled for execution tonight. It will be the first double execution since 2000.

Both inmates experienced serious legal setbacks this weekend. Each had cases ruled against them on both April 21 and April 23.

This weekend, members from the Death Penalty Action group worked to reunite Jones with a daughter he had never met. The woman, who was given up for adoption as an infant, connected with him a few years ago but had never had a chance to meet with him in person. With the help of the group, she was able to meet her biological father in person for 90 minutes.

A fundraiser on the crowdfunding site YouCaring has been started to assist some of the families of the men scheduled for execution. According to the site, the funding is meant to help the families of those being executed with last minute visitations and burial expenses. So far, they have raised over $7,000.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied nine Arkansas death row inmates' petition for rehearing. The petition for rehearing was filed after Arkansas announced the scheduled execution of eight men in an 11-day period.

The original case was filed in 2015 by nine death row inmates, including the eight with signed death warrants. The inmates argued that the sedative midazolam — the first drug in Arkansas' lethal injection protocol — violated their Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court decided Feb. 21 to not hear arguments in the original case, with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissenting.

According to today's court documents, Sotomayor alone voted to grant the petition for rehearing.

The U.S. Supreme Court is also scheduled April 24 to begin hearing arguments in McWilliams vs. Dunn. This case was key to two stays of execution granted April 17 to Arkansas death row inmates, Don Davis and Bruce Ward. Davis' and Ward's executions are temporarily on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling. The case argues that defendants should have access to an expert that is independent from the prosecution, specifically in cases where mental illness or intellectual disabilities may play a factor.

An exoneree and prison official speak out

A former Arkansas death row inmate has been vocal about his disdain for the scheduled executions. Damien Echols spent over 18 years sitting on death row and was eventually exonerated in 2011 by DNA evidence. Echols, who was joined by actor Johnny Depp, spoke at a Good Friday demonstration to protest Arkansas' pending executions. Echols continues to write and advocate against the executions of the death row prisoners with whom he shared a prison block.

Patrick Crain, a former head of Arkansas' death row unit, said in an interview with The Intercept that Echols' exoneration "weighed on him greatly."

Crain said he was "shocked" by the scheduling and expressed concern for the corrections workers at the unit. In March, 25 former correctional officials and administrators sent a letter to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking for reconsideration of the "pace of the planned executions."

[Kristen Whitney Daniels is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is kdaniels@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @KWhitneyDaniels.]

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