Update on Arkansas executions: April 27

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); Tuesday’s update (April 25, 2017)


Today marks the final day in Arkansas' original plan to execute eight men in 11 days. Kenneth Williams is the sole inmate scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. CST, April 27, as Jason McGehee received a temporary stay of execution at the beginning of the month. If completed, Williams would be the fourth person executed by the state in an 8-day period.

On April 26, the Arkansas Supreme Court denied all of Williams' requests for a stay of execution. Williams appealed to the court, asking for a stay based on his intellectual disability and another regarding evidence that could have reduced his sentence, which the jury did not hear at the time of his original trial.

According to the Fair Punishment Project, Williams' IQ qualifies him as intellectually disabled and he has a history of learning disabilities and neuropsychological problems. The report states that there is evidence to suggest Williams has significant brain damage and "experienced unimaginable trauma" as a child.

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This morning, attorneys filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County, Arkansas, on behalf of Williams. The lawsuit raises concerns about Williams' medical issues, the previously completed executions and Arkansas' lethal injection protocol.


Related: Ohio court votes to vacate ruling on state's lethal injection protocol (April 26, 2017)


The Marshall Project published an essay of Williams' written correspondence with journalist Deborah Robinson in which he discusses his thoughts on his pending execution. The letters document intimate moments such as when he received his death warrant and being asked about his clothing sizes.

"An officer showed up at my cell door today and asked, 'Kenneth, how are you?' Then he asked, 'What is your shirt and pant size? What size shoe do you wear? How tall are you? How much do you weigh?'" wrote Williams. "Talk about the lamb being sized up before the slaughter. I thought: 'Have they forgotten I am human, or do they just not care?' Then I thought: 'Wasn't it my disregard for human life that got me in this situation to begin with?'"

Unlikely support for Williams

The wife of a man murdered by Williams has asked the state to spare his life, according to KSPR 33, a local ABC affiliate. Michael Greenwood was killed during Williams' escape from prison, where he was already serving a life sentence for the murder of Dominique Hurd. Stacey Yaw, Greenwood's wife who was expecting twins at the time, said she believes that "justice has already been served."

"He hasn’t been able to kill anyone else. Executing him is more of revenge," Yaw said.

Michael Greenwood's family wanted to ensure Williams' family had one last time to see him, saying they know what it feels like to lose a father. The Greenwood family bought Williams' daughter and granddaughter plane tickets and met with them yesterday.

Support for Williams also came from overseas. The European Union sent a letter to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking him to spare Williams' life. The letter was signed by David O'Sullivan, the EU's ambassador to the U.S.

The letter states the EU's personal opposition to capital punishment and their desire to eliminate the death penalty in all countries. The letter also addresses concern surrounding the pace of executions due to an expiring drug and using drugs against pharmaceutical companies' wishes.

"Proceeding with Mr. Williams' execution would therefore be a very concerning precedent," O'Sullivan wrote.

The future of capital punishment

News broke on April 25 that two states are seriously considering the future of capital punishment for their respective states.

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission released their recommendation and findings following a year and a half of research on Oklahoma's death penalty system. The report recommends that Oklahoma maintain and extend its current moratorium on the death penalty.

Brad Henry, former Oklahoma governor and co-chair of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, said there were "disturbing" findings that "led members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death."

"Due to the volume and seriousness of the flaws in Oklahoma's capital punishment system, Commission members recommend that the moratorium on executions be extended until significant reforms are accomplished," he said.

That same day, a Louisiana Senate committee passed a bill to abolish the death penalty. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Claitor, who is Catholic, still needs to be voted on by the full Senate. But the initial passing is significant due to the state's geographic region. The South accounts for more than 80 percent of all executions in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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

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