LITTLE ROCK — Attorneys for three men Arkansas intends to put to death this week are asking a federal judge to change the viewing rules for executions.
Arkansas is halfway through its ambitious execution schedule, which originally called for conducting back-to-back double executions on four nights beginning last Monday and ending next Thursday. Gov. Asa Hutchinson set the unprecedented scheduled in the hope of using one of the state’s execution drugs before it expires at the end of the month.
The state carried out its first execution in 12 years Thursday night when it put Ledell Lee to death for the 1993 slaying of Debra Reese of Jacksonville, but courts have issued stays blocking the executions of Bruce Earl Ward, Don William Davis, Stacey Eugene Johnson and Jason McGehee.
The state plans to execute Marcel Wayne Williams and Jack Harold Jones on Monday night and Kenneth Williams on Thursday night. By Saturday afternoon, no court rulings were in place to block their executions, although their attorneys were pursuing various appeals filed in the past week.
Attorneys: Change viewing rules
On Saturday, attorneys for the inmates filed a motion in federal court to modify the viewing policy for any further executions. The attorneys said the current rules call for the curtains to the viewing room to be drawn until the execution commences, but they differ with the state on when the procedure commences.
According to the motion, the Arkansas Department of Correction views the procedure as commencing just before the drugs are about to flow into the inmate’s body. The attorneys said they view it as commencing when their clients are escorted into the chamber.
The attorneys said this is a particular concern in the cases of Marcel Williams and Jones. The men’s attorneys currently are appealing a federal judge’s ruling that denied requests to stay their executions based on the men’s health conditions.
According to the attorneys, Williams’ obesity and diabetes and Jones’ advanced neuropathy and other conditions likely would prevent the men from being fully sedated before drugs are administered to stop their lungs and hearts. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker rejected that argument Friday, and Saturday the inmates’ attorneys filed notice of an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
In their motion Saturday seeking to modify the viewing procedure, the inmates’ attorneys argued that the men’s health conditions also could complicate the process of placing intravenous lines in their arms.
“Counsel must be aware of what is happening to their clients at this most critical time. If the ADC is unable to locate a vein in a reasonable amount of time, counsel will be obliged to take steps necessary to protect their client’s rights,” the attorneys said in the motion.
They noted that ADC Director Wendy Kelley has said the main reason for not allowing anyone to witness the IV setup is to protect the confidentiality of a volunteer participant on the IV team. They said their request could be accommodated by allowing them to view the IV setup before other witnesses are allowed into the room.
“Opening the curtain at the point of plaintiffs’ entry, while only the attorneys are in the viewing room, is the only way to effectuate plaintiffs’ right to counsel and to access the courts for the duration of the execution,” the attorneys argued.
They noted that a protective order prohibits the parties and attorneys from disclosing any confidential information connected to the case.
The state did not immediately file a response Saturday afternoon.
Three set for execution this week
Marcel Williams 46, is scheduled to die Monday for the 1994 slaying of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson of Jacksonville.
Authorities said Errickson had stopped for gas in Jacksonville when Williams abducted her at gunpoint, forced her to drive to several ATMs and made her withdraw a total of $350.
Errickson’s body was found in a shallow grave. She had been raped and then suffocated, authorities said.
Jones, 52, is scheduled to die Monday for the 1995 killing of 34-year-old Mary Phillips during a robbery of the accounting office in Bald Knob where she worked as a bookkeeper. Jones also severely beat Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter, Lacy Phillips, and left her for dead.
When police officers first arrived at the crime scene they did not realize Lacy Phillips was there, but after an officer noticed blood coming from under the bathroom door they entered the bathroom and found her. They mistook her for dead until a police photographer took a photo of her face and her eyes snapped open.
In addition to his death sentence for capital murder, Jones received a life sentence for rape and a 30-year sentence for attempted capital murder.
Jones also is serving another life sentence for the 1991 killing of 32-year-old Lorraine Anne Barrett in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Jones was linked to the crime in 2003 through DNA testing.
Kenneth Williams, 38, was serving a life sentence for the 1998 killing of University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader Dominique Hurd when he escaped from the Cummins Unit in Lincoln County in 1999.
He shot and killed Cecil Boren, 57, at Boren’s nearby home, stole Boren’s truck and was captured after a high-speed chase in Missouri during which he crashed into a vehicle and killed the driver, Michael Greenwood, 24, of Springfield, Mo.
Williams is scheduled to die Thursday for Boren’s killing. He also is serving three sentences of life without parole, one for aggravated robbery and two for capital murder.