Arkansas put to death two men Monday night using an often-ineffective and controversial sedative that will expire at the end of the month. It was the first back-to-back execution in the United States in more than 16 years.
Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Wayne Williams, both convicted murderers, were killed after the Arkansas Supreme Court, Eighth Circuit, and U.S. Supreme Court all rejected their motions for a stay. Williams’ death was briefly delayed late Monday when his attorney argued in a motion that staff tried unsuccessfully for 45 minutes to put a line in Jones’ neck, calling the execution “torturous and inhumane.” But a federal judge lifted the brief stay and allowed Williams’ execution to continue.
The men were both part of a group of eight inmates the state planned to execute during a ten-day period before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month. The inmates all challenged the use of the drug in court, but the Supreme Court denied their motion.
Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney who is representing three of the defendants, told ThinkProgress last month that by using midazolam, the state could be setting itself up for disaster.
“We know midazolam doesn’t work,” he said. “People wake up…. It has been the source of the so-called botched executions because the people have been awake and in total pain because they’re trying to use midazolam for a purpose it wasn’t intended to be used.”
The inmates also challenged the tight schedule, arguing that it did not allow the state enough time to consider their cases, but an appeals court denied them relief.
The last time two executions were carried out in one night occurred in Texas in August 2000.
Last week, Arkansas carried out its first execution in more than a decade when it killed Ledell Lee. Stacey E. Johnson, who has maintained his innocence, was scheduled to be killed the same night, but the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of execution to allow for new forensic testing. A fourth man, Kenneth Williams, is scheduled to be executed in Arkansas on Thursday.
Public support for capital punishment in the United States has been steadily declining in recent decades. Just 56 percent of Americans say they support capital punishment — a 40-year low, down from 78 percent just two decades ago.